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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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  • http://peacekeeper.press Joe Eagle

    The skin does absorb chemicals from the environment. Confer this link:

    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Absorption_(skin)

    It is just about impossible to compile scientific data about the effect of synthetic clothing on human health. A study would have to include thousands of people self reporting what they wear. And even after the data is collected, along with health reports, how would the scientist determine what effect the clothes had on health? A person's health is related to many factors aside from what they may wear.

    I try to wear "natural" clothing at least as base layers: socks, leggings, tops, gloves, hat, etc. Outer layers that contain synthetics and don't come into constant skin contact are less of a concern for me. I handwash all the clothes with liquid soapnut detergent which is surprisingly effective at removing stains and odors if used properly.

    Soapnuts are a fruit. So even if absorb a minute amount left on the clothes, it's just fruit juice.

  • Leila K

    The clueless (mostly younger generations) have no clue that they live in a world that is oblivious to what this article explains......SO brainwashed.....and all these toxic manufacturers KNOW IT.....They are taking full advantage of the NEW DUMB generations....No one in the past would have said yes to toxic artificial anything !!!.....The new generations don't know the difference....

  • Dolly_Summers

    May = no real studies. So guess what you can’t claim it's dangerous. So just quite smashing things.

  • fanofjesus

    I have old, worn-out organic cotton bras that I use underneath a sturdier, albeit non-organic fabric; I don't buy polyester or nylon bras, but I thought about those really stretchy nylon pullovers, and thought I could wear my org cotton bra underneath. any thoughts?

  • Furluge

    People, stop taking your safety advice from quack naturalists. Everything about this article screams quackering. "Zomg nylon is made from petroleum!" Yeah, it's plastic, most plastics are. XD Just because it's artificial doesn't make it toxic. I kept searching and searching and couldn't find anything academic to corroborate the worries about the "top six deadly materials" The only other thing I could find was another stupid naturalist blog. XD

  • Mark

    I've worn synthetic clothing for years and never had a problem. I'm also chemically sensitive and can't use commercial laundry detergent. I make my own suds and don't use fabric softeners. Synthetic clothing poses little risk, in my opinion.

  • tim3854

    What about Polypropylene? Is that to be considered in the "polyester" group?

  • Melissa Flores

    wonderful, so where dio i find suporttive big cup bras in all natural materials?????????????

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    You don't say why polyester is bad for you. Just that it's bad....

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    Any tips on where to find reasonably priced natural fiber fabrics or close will be greatly appreciated!

  • Gerald Landry

    Another serious issue is the Laundry Detergent used to wash these fabrics. Solvent based Scents and other chemicals used in Conventional Detergents, since they are against our skin 24 hours per day are DERMAL absorbed through our skin into our bloodstream. Toxic Body Burden is a horrible reality = MCS, or the greened up term, Environmental Illness.

  • Eve

    I have found a website qualitago.com where you can find a lot of items made of cotton, silk and other natural or semi-natural fabrics from most common brands like Zara, AE or H&M. They show detailed composition, so you don't have to click on every item to check if it's 100% of cotton or 1%. They don't have search engine unfortunately, but worth to check.

  • stellabystarlite

    Is there actual evidence that wearing these can affect your health long-term?

  • eyeswideopenincali

    Silly. There are far more who are sensitive to wools and other natural materials. "Natural" does not equal "better" in all circumstances. It is better for those who have a sensitivity to synthetics, of course. But not for those sensitive to the natural fibers. The ability to wash clothing (especially those made from natural fibers) have been as important to the longevity of humans as the vacuum cleaner. Bugs kill. Yes, we once only wore natural. we also had horrible plagues the sight of which we have not seen in a very long time. Furthermore, those who choose to be buggy are making choices for all of us because we come into contact with them. If you want to be natural for fun, then go all the way and live in a cave away from me. you may die from eating something natural but poisonous or from the elements, or the natural water filled with microorganisms, or natures vermin and bugs. Since man has been here we have strived to live longer and we in fact live far longer than we used to. This is not from being natural. It is from the inventions of many many man-made inventions. I am not saying natural = bad. I am simply saying natural does not = good. Think sh** through. Don't be sheep (they might have scabies).

  • Anika Raut

    Hey guys, after reading this article i can personally recommend you something perfect and appealing to any fashion who can meet all the positives mentioned above its at.herringboneandsui. This brand stylist personally came to my place to design a tuxedo for my brother at his wedding. My brother got the best fabric the best style statement at herringboneandsui they have an amazing range of suits and tuxedos online although the best part is to get customized for yourself. please check :https://www.herringboneandsui.com/groomshop.html

  • gjt3rd

    Hi there. I have been sewing since the 1960s when polyester made its appearance in small towns across the USA. Natural fabrics were replaced by manufactured fabrics. Cotton fabrics were outsourced to other countries. Our small fabric stores and fabric sections of general stores sold very poor quality fabric which tore easily and colors quickly faded into our water supply. Recently, local fabric stores are offering a few responsibly sourced organic natural fabrics -- maybe one bolt of linen or cotton in a store with hundreds of fabrics - but that's a start.

    Slowly, as this generation becomes more educated about health issues related to environmental toxins, this generation of parents is demanding better clothing options for their babies. A new generation is coming that will reject toxic clothing. Until that time, I value and appreciate websites that educate the public about how toxins in textiles affects the human body.

    The Internet is opening new e-commerce retail stores that target health minded consumers. The very real problem that I face is that I cannot find the styles 1) that I like 2) in healthy fabrics 3) in my body size. Plus sized clothing is almost always made of some type of toxic textile. Because I could not find healthy clothing in my body size, I began to make small changes. I have returned to sewing and appreciate your article reminding me to continuing purchasing fabrics that reduce the toxic load on my body and the environment. We speak with our wallets. We demand a $10 quality garment not caring about who loses to get that $10 garment into a store. We wear the garment a few times - then we donate it or toss it into the rubbish not thinking what happens to that garments and millions like it. To decompose polyester, 20 to 200 years must pass. Third world countries cannot absorb all of our donated garments -- and our donations actually shut down their textile industries. Although as one person, I cannot save the world, I can do my small part and encourage others.

    When I see webpages like bodyecologydotcom educate and encourage the public to think deeply about the fabrics that are in constant contact with the largest organ on the human body, I say "Well done!" and "Thank you!"

  • Barbara Fayad

    I agree boy cott wool and any other material made of animals , animals shouldn't have to suffer!

  • Anni M

    But wool causes immense animal suffering. I urge everyone to avoid it. Please boycott this horrible industry.
    http://www.peta.org/features/joaquin-phoenix-beautifully-suited/?utm_campaign=1216%20Wool%20Doesnt%20Suit%20Joaquin%20Phoenix%20Compassion%20Does%20Post&utm_source=PETA%20Facebook&utm_medium=Promo

  • Gisrel Laude Sullivan Dorio

    Oh, thank you for this article. Very helpful. I'd been allergic to some fabrics thats why im very choosy to those I sell online. Good thing the fabrics i bought from www.distinctivefabric,com are all friendly to my allergies.

  • Ally

    What about leather and suede? Thanks

  • Janet Gentry

    Good article but I find it interesting how many fail to mention that people who have latex allergies and/or sensitivity should avoid rayon. It wasn't until I researched on how rayon was made that I finally made the connection. Finding clothes that are 100% cotton is not easy and sometimes I have issues with cotton which may be from the chemicals to make wrinkle resistant.

  • akilah

    thank you for this information ,i have been allergic to polyester since i been i child ,i realise how hard it is to buy clothes and even to live my daily life without coming in to connect with the fabric.the older i have become the more difficult it is and the more isolated i have become from the world.i was wondering whether i can get any advise from anyone that has a similar problem or who ever has some added knowledge to share .thank you

  • Julie

    Terrible to see how plastics are just in everything now. Even body wash. Shame on them for manufacturing it. I don't like to buy synthetic materials it just doesn't seem right to me. But every store and everything the older I get is all plastic. Cars, clothes water bottles, vinyl siding on your home, plastic everywhere. It isn't good for the environment or the future.

  • susan

    It took me several years to figure out that on the rare ocassion I would wear one of 2 polyester shirts in my closet, I would wake up the next day with significant joint aches that would last for approximately 10 days. I can wear fabric with less then 10% polyester content with no obvious effects. I wonder how many people suffer from ailments without any idea that their symptoms are caused by the clothes they are wearing.

  • Bliss

    Can I hear some examples of high quality European garments?

  • tevinkittoe

    Very interesting post. My name is Tevin Kittoe and I am the Co-Founder for an ethical mens fashion retailer called Mister Kittoe (www.misterkittoe.com). I was wondering if we could use this post on our website blog? We'd link back to this page and give all credit where it is due! If so, please get back to me on tevin@misterkittoe.com.


    Thanks!

  • 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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