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The Top 6 Fabrics You Should Avoid Wearing and Why

When you pick out your clothes, you probably don't think about their toxic load on your body and the environment. But most fabrics that make our clothes, upholstery and linens are highly processed with tons of chemicals. Find out how to protect yourself.

Everyday and night we are surrounded by fabrics. From clothing to sheets on our beds to upholstery on furniture or car seats, these are the fabrics of our lives.

Fabrics are around us nearly all the time, but did you know that your material choices could either help or harm your health?

Material World

Not that long ago, people stuck to the natural fibers: wool, cashmere, cotton, silk, linen, and hemp.

But if you take a look at your clothing labels today, you are likely to find materials like rayon, polyester, acrylic, acetate and nylon. And your shirts and slacks may be treated to be wrinkle-free or stain resistant.

These technological advances in fabrics may make our lives simpler, but at what cost?

Chemically treated natural and synthetic fabrics are a source of toxins that adversely affect your health and the health of the planet.

Here's our short list of fabrics to avoid, and the healthy ones to pick instead.

Top 6 Toxic Fabrics

1. Polyester is the worst fabric you can buy. It is made from synthetic polymers that are made from esters of dihydric alcohol and terpthalic acid.

2. Acrylic fabrics are polycrylonitriles and may cause cancer, according to the EPA.

3. Rayon is recycled wood pulp that must be treated with chemicals like caustic soda, ammonia, acetone and sulphuric acid to survive regular washing and wearing.

4. Acetate and Triacetate are made from wood fibers called cellulose and undergo extensive chemical processing to produce the finished product.

5. Nylon is made from petroleum and is often given a permanent chemical finish that can be harmful.

6. Anything static resistant, stain resistant, permanent press, wrinkle-free, stain proof or moth repellant. Many of the stain resistant and wrinkle-free fabrics are treated with perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), like Teflon.

Modern Materials

Keep in mind that many fabrics (including natural fibers) undergo significant processing that often involves:

  • Detergents
  • Petrochemical dyes
  • Formaldehyde to prevent shrinkage
  • Volatile organic compounds (VOCs)
  • Dioxin-producing bleach
  • Chemical fabric softeners

These additives are often toxic to the human body, may contain heavy metals and can pollute our environment.

With these kinds of warnings, what can you do?

If you are chemically sensitive or just want to surround yourself with healthy fabrics, there are new options.

Doris Brunza, a fashion designer who worked in the Garment District in New York City for 20 years, knows about finding fabrics that don't cause reactions, because she is chemically sensitive.

She points out that nearly ALL fabrics, including organic fabric, are treated with chemicals at some point during their processing. Still, some choices are better than others.

In general, look for natural fibers like:

  • Cotton
  • Silk
  • Linen
  • Hemp
  • Wool
  • Cashmere

If you can, purchase and wear organic fabrics and organic clothing. While they still might be processed to some extent, they are often a better choice than synthetics.

Brunza also advises people to buy high quality European garments made with the finest fabrics. Expensive clothing may seem overpriced, but the quality of the raw materials is superior, and the fibers can be woven into beautiful fabrics that are soft and strong, requiring little chemical processing to make them suitable for you, the consumer. They also last you for years so are a wise purchase in the long run.

Remember to avoid chemical dry cleaning whenever possible and wash your clothes in a "green"detergent.

Organic food, pure water, and natural or organic clothing can work together to enhance your wellbeing and help you live a healthier life. Reducing your toxic load may sometimes seem like an overwhelming task, but just like any other change, make it step by step. Over time, you'll see improvement in your own life and in the world around you. Change in the world begins with you making simple changes in your own life.

Sources:

  1. The 6+ Synthetic Fabrics You Most to Avoid, and Why, SixWise.com.
    http://www.sixwise.com/newsletters/05/12/21/the_6+_synthetic_fabrics_you_most_want_to_avoid_and_why.htm
  2. Brunza, Doris, "Finding Tolerable Clothing or Fabric, EnvironmentalHealth.ca. http://www.environmentalhealth.ca/fall93cloth.html

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  • Virginie

    Thank you for this great article. I am a clothing designer and it inspired me to focus on designing organic wear using pure, natural fabrics. Earlier this year, with the help of friends and local green advocates, I was able to launch AtelierPrelude.com ; an online boutique which specializes in organic bath, beauty and fashion essentials including 100% organic cotton dresses, cashmere sweaters and silk tops. I would love if you could visit our page and perhaps list it in your article.

    Many thanks ahead for your consideration & have a beautiful week! Thank you for inspiring so many of us! :D

  • Juan Carlos Carpio

    Unfortunately the "gentrification" of our basic needs is so pervasive. Eating and dressing organic has become an optional luxury, even a status symbol of the haves, while the have nots are cornered by the unlimited "democratic freedom" granted to entrepreneurialism so it can push its toxic production on them.

  • Sargint Rock

    I get all the angry posts, Don't we all have wardrobes full of synthetic? BUT.........there is no denying this has merit when you add in the systematic poisoning of municipal drinking water with fluoride plus the GMO's and toxins in the soil and air. Look at the EXPLODING rates of Cancer and Autism!!!!!And Obesity. When I learned that Fluoride shuts down the Thyroid it all made sense. As a first step, use organic for barrier clothes to protect skin and go from there. People, unless you are drinking from a clean well, filter your water with a unit that takes out the fluoride! They can be purchased at infowars.com plus you'll see in detail the Eugenics plan the Elites have for the Earth family. Not good! Keep yore head on a swivel and yore powder dry. In this day and age, there are forces at work beyond our Ken! PROTECT your family with knowledge and the Grace of Christ.

  • Mona

    Kulliki is pretty much right. "Natrual" fibers like cotton waste so many resources in its production. The people who work on the farm or at the processing unit are treated terribly. Also be carful about bamboo because a lot of organic bamboo is really just rayon; some bamboo is grown on transitional, toxic soil– toxic from what was previously grown on it and the pesticides used. What were the sources used for this "article"

  • Külliki

    This kind of information is hurting my head! These is so misleading!! Natural fibres like cotton and wool are so hardly chemically treated to make them wearable, The growing process involves land, human and animal abuse. No way that there would be less toxic chemicals in cotton or wool clothing unless you or your grandma have grown, carded and sewn the things themselves!

    Other misleading information: as it would be bad to extract cellulose from trees... if lodged by law, the rate of trees growing back is higher then the lodged ones. And, by the way, what are you thinking your cellophane or tetra-package is made of? Further more, the desertification because of using the ground water for cotton fields has far the most harmful impact to worlds arable land. About synthetical fibres based in oil: i quess, you avoid cars, plains and cosmetics?
    IT IS NOT THE FIBER THAT HURTS US, IT IS THE FINISHING OF THE FABRIC AND GARMENTS!!

  • spring

    Poliester is strong material for sport clothes. It is not bad for jacket, but for tshirts probably is not good. Maybe natural materials like cotton and wool can be toxic if they threated with color and other chemicals.

  • Candice

    People like Vardit are, unfortunately, blind. It's not luxury to cover yourself with something that is not healthy. In fact, polyester is one of the cheapest and most uncomfortable fabrics there are, so it can hardly be considered luxurious. On top of that, people like Vardit who say silly things like "people have been doing it for years!" don't realize that things aren't going to just be bad elsewhere. It's going to get bad everywhere if it continues. Do you consider clean water a luxury? What about clean air? How about a living planet? Is that important? Oh, no? Then by all means, continue to buy polyester.

  • Cat

    I see everything is centered on our health. As if the health of the ecosystems are not important. And, as we are not part of the ecosystem... ahem ahem.
    Maybe we should try being a little less human centric and start seeing the bigger picture.
    All this to say, before saying *natural materials* like cotton are the best material, maybe we should all check out the huge amount of chemicals that go into cotton growing, polluting groundwater, rivers and poisoning people. Tons of reports out on the Internet.
    What is the solution then? What can we buy?....big dilemma right? We created a monster textile industry. Maybe we should start thinking twice (or more) before we actually buy anything at all. If that is that we need anything else in our wardrobes or houses.

  • Roberto

    Hello, I'm Italian and working in the UK. I must say I'm surprised about the carelessness of the people here about toxic materials. Microwave is everywhere, and so are plastic kettles, film wrappings, not to mention memory foam. I'm really happy to be sneer at as a hipster or whatever, but I boil my tea water in a pot or, when I have one at hand, a glass kettle :) Having said that, when it comes to fabrics, I agree with you in principle, but i think it's a bit hard to totally avoid polyester and nylon, and I'm surprised you put the former on top of the list. I've read they use chemicals (obviously) in the processing but from my scattered readings I've ended up with the impression that it's the second least toxic synthetic fabric, after nylon. Well, if you want a down jacket for winter, you can't easily have it in wool or hemp... anyway, good to read your article! I wanted to know more about acrylic and now I'll definitely avoid it. Thanks :)

  • Ben

    Question; is anyone selling a cotton/hemp blend of fabric? I would like to buy something like that.

  • Bob Hope

    Not sure what Vardit means by a life of luxury - wearing poisons? People have lived for years and years with diseases, no doubt their health was NOT helped by synthetic clothing.

    I am sure a barrier would help, but just wear cotton. It is the most common & affordable clothing material. Hemp is better in many respects, it is more durable, is anti-baterial and wicks moisture away from the skin better- it is more breathable (good for exercise), helps regulate temperature in all weathers. Alas, it is also more expensive and less available than cotton...

  • Vardit

    Wow! a bunch of crap! although true in fact it is STILL A BUSINESS People lived for years and years with this and I will continue to live a life of luxury!

  • Rosalea Hostetler

    I have been suspicious of synthetic fibers for a long time and I appreciate this article very much. Can an organic fiber, such as in underwear, create a barrier so there is no leakage from an outer synthetic garment?

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