If you’re a proponent of an eco-friendly lifestyle, you may have made it a point to purge your home of harmful toxins. Foods that contain questionable additives, chemical-laden cleaning products, and icky pesticides are all products you’ve likely already banished from your home. But these aren’t the only places nasty chemicals could be hiding. By the time they wind up in your closet, your clothes will likely have undergone a lengthy production process using a plethora of unpleasant chemicals that are wreaking havoc on the environment and perhaps your body as well!
Now, you may be thinking: why aren’t these chemicals being regulated? Just like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s lax regulatory standards for food and drugs, the Federal Trade Commission applies minimal oversight to the chemicals used in the textile industries — thus, clothing manufacturers are not required to disclose which chemicals they used during their production process. Thankfully, we’ve got a comprehensive guide to some of the most common culprits — here’s what to avoid:
1. Azo Dyes
Have you ever washed a new shirt and upon taking it out of the washing machine realized the colors bled onto your other clothes? Well, you can thank azo dyes for that! One of the most commonly used colorants in the textile industry, azo dyes are what give your clothes their vibrant coloring. And the dye doesn’t just bleed in your washing machine — it can also rub off onto your body and be absorbed into your skin! This can cause a host of health issues as prolonged exposure to these harsh chemicals has been shown to cause allergic contact dermatitis and even cancer! Clothing factories around the world are also dumping their dye-riddled wastewater into nearby rivers, contaminating the groundwater and polluting the surrounding environment. Ditch these toxic dyes and opt for clothing that’s colored with natural dyes instead!
That’s right — the same colorless gas used in embalming fluids to preserve the deceased is also commonly found in clothing. Formaldehyde, which is routinely listed on product labels under different names, has been linked to a wide variety of skin and respiratory issues and has even been shown to cause certain types of cancers! Formaldehyde is often used in clothes to prevent mildew and wrinkles, so beware of clothes that are labeled wrinkle-free, mildew resistant, and waterproof.
3. Nonylphenol Ethoxylate (NPEs)
A common dye-dispersing agent, NPEs are one of the most toxic chemicals used in the clothing industry. Not only are they skin and eye irritants, NPEs have also been shown to cause birth defects, disrupt hormones, and to negatively affect reproductive health. While NPEs tend to wash out in the laundry, they do end up in local waterways where they degrade into nonylphenols (NPs) and wreak havoc on aquatic environments. It’s really no wonder this chemical is banned in Europe!
4. Perfluorinated Chemicals (PFCs)
PFCs are another chemical frequently used to waterproof clothing, so it’s likely you’ll find them in footwear or outdoor apparel. And of course, the list of dangers they may pose to your health is quite extensive. PFCs can largely affect the liver, disrupt hormones, compromise the immune system, and can also stunt growth. Worry not, you can still protect yourself from becoming soaked in a rainstorm with a PFC-free, vegan, eco-friendly do-it-yourself waterproofing spray.
If you have one of those custom shirts with an image or lettering plastered onto the front, you’re probably being exposed to this harmful chemical. Largely used in clothing and accessories made from plastic, phthalates are known to negatively affect the reproductive and endocrine systems. Although it’s virtually impossible to completely avoid phthalates (they’re literally found in just about everything!), you can do your best to minimize exposure by ditching plastic — especially when it comes to clothing.
Here’s How You Can Protect Yourself!
Although completely avoiding chemicals is all but impossible due to pollution and their pervasiveness in all aspects of life, you can still do your best to protect your body and the environment by not purchasing clothing made from synthetic materials whenever possible. Try avoiding fabrics like polyester, acrylic, rayon, or nylon and opt for clothing made from organic, all-natural materials instead. Also, be on the lookout for GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certified clothing as they indicate which clothes did not come into contact with harmful chemicals during production.
Were you aware of the potential hazard of chemicals in clothes?
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