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The Harmful Chemicals Lurking in Your Everyday Clothing

Updated on August 7, 2014

Synthetic fabrics and certain dyes can be leaching chemicals into the surrounding environment. As they are produced, certain chemicals treat the fabric. These leftover chemicals are released into the groundwater and are inhaled by people in the nearby areas.

For wearers of these garments, the chemicals can directly harm the skin. With the rise of man-made chemicals, doctors have seen increasing effects on individuals. According to the World Wildlife Federation, parents should check the clothing their children wear to make sure that it is safe.

Whenever possible, people should wear clothing that is as natural as possible.

Teflon in Clothing

The World Wildlife Federation has issued warnings about perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) in clothing. Among the different chemicals in the group, one of them is the additive Teflon. PFCs are used in clothing because it makes the fabric last longer and prevents wrinkles.

If a shirt or dress is labelled “no-iron” or “wrinkle-free”, it most likely contains PFCs. Unfortunately for many individuals, these chemicals can lead to an allergic response. They may cause unexplained fatigue, nausea, skin rashes, inflammation, breathing problems, headaches, blurred vision and itching. When someone develops these symptoms and no other cause is present, it may be due to PFCs in their clothing items.

Fabric to Watch Out For

Certain marketing terms indicate that fabric has been treated with toxic chemicals. Any easy care garments are typically treated with formaldehyde. Teflon is found in water repellant garments. For anti-bacterial clothing, triclosan and nano-particles can release neurotoxins that are absorbed by the skin.

Other clothing items to watch out for may be advertised as chlorine resistant, anti-cling, moth-proof, perspiration-proof, anti-static and waterproof. Altogether, fabrics that contain formaldehyde have been medically linked to a 30 percent rise in lung cancer, skin irritation and lung problems. Since it is frequently used in bedding, families should use sheets that are made out of cotton. Colors are normally set with formaldehyde, so white or light colored sheets are best.

Government Oversight

Many governments around the world limit the amount formaldehyde in clothing. In the United States, this is not the case. There have been lawsuits against name brand companies like Victoria’s Secret in the past for formaldehyde.

When warm weather or humidity occurs, it causes the reaction to be even worse because the skin’s pores open up. Dyes like Disperse Blue #1 are classified are carcinogenic due to animal tests. This particular dye has even shown up in makeup and hair dye.

History of Chemicals in Fabric

In 1971, flame retardant began to be commonly used. At the time, the government decided that kid's pajamas must be self-extinguishing. After testing urine samples, research showed that chemicals like Brominated Tris in the fabric were easily absorbed by children. This chemical has been known to cause sterility and cancer in animals.

By 1977, the government banned Brominated Tris in children’s clothes. Modern fabrics have a different version of flame retardant that is required to last more than 50 washings. Known as PBDEs, these new flame retardants are linked with ADHD-like symptoms, cancer, thyroid disorders, brain damage and fertility issues.

Other Information

To avoid chemicals and synthetic clothing, individuals have a few options. Cotton is an ideal textile and should be bought from an organic producer whenever possible. Hemp and flax fabrics are also ideal for clothing.

Silk can be used, but it must not include any synthetic dyes. With wool, families must buy organic. Non-organic wool is treated with pesticides while it is grown that can remain on the fabric. Other fabric choices include ramie, alpaca, cashmere, angora, mohair and camel. For each of these clothing types, families must always avoid any synthetic dyes or chemicals that have been added after the item was completed.

Synthetic Fabrics

Synthetic clothing contains an electrostatic charge and can lead to infertility in men. Since rayon was first sold in 1924, more synthetic fibers have been marketed to people. In 1950, acrylic was sold as a time-saving fabric. It was followed by polyester in 1953 that was advertised as a wrinkle-free synthetic. Later on, spandex and olefin were introduced in 1959. These two fabrics how now become popular in athletic clothing, swim wear and some underwear types. To create olefin, petroleum molecules are transformed into gases.

Newborn children are at an especial risk. Their immune systems are not yet fully formed and can easily absorb toxins in the environment. From crib bedding to pajamas, these items must be purchased in organic and non-dyed forms. Other members of the family should also mind the clothing that they wear. Any chemicals in the clothes can be released during wear and be absorbed readily by the skin. With all of the different carcinogens in the environment, eliminating an additional risk can help improve health and reduce symptoms.

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