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  • Writer's pictureMichaela A de Guire

Toxic Clothes

Updated: Apr 16, 2023

You are clean and healthy, you stay far away from GMO foods, choosing organic wherever possible, you use all-natural beauty and cleaning products, you feed your pets clean food, you drink purified water.


But, have you ever considered the chemicals that are used in clothing while it is being manufactured and the pollution created during the process?


To name all of the dangerous synthetic chemicals used in the fashion industry would be endless, as there are over 8,000 synthetic chemicals used in the manufacturing process alone. However, to name a few, there are flame retardants, AZO dyes, chromium, perfluorocarbon, solvents, phthalates, and formaldehydes.

The sad part is many textile factories do not monitor where their water waste goes.

As the end consumer, the person who wears these clothes, you might notice if you have sensitive skin, an irritancy when wearing the garment. However, have you ever considered how this garment that you can’t wear, no matter how many times you wash it, is affecting the ones who are in the supply chain? The people who are working day in and day out, while being exposed to such chemicals?


There are studies that have shown that 25% of the global chemical output originates from the textile industry. The sad part is many textile factories do not monitor where their water waste goes, thus, it ends up in the rivers, lakes, and oceans. Most likely killing off much of the marine life, and taking others' livelihoods with.


In the blog regarding slow fashion I explained how we should be keeping an eye out for organic clothing. Why? Because conventional cotton is genetically modified to increase the resilience of the crops. It is also responsible for 18% of the worldwide pesticide use and 25% of the world insecticide use. If this is our everyday cotton, can you imagine what the other fabrics are doing to the earth and to the humans working behind the scene?


Why is the fashion industry so ill regulated? Why is it so toxic? And what can we as consumers do about it?

The fashion industry does not have global regulations on chemical substances used within the industry.

Why is it toxic?


The fashion industry does not have global regulations on chemical substances used within the industry. We need to be global because clothes are not made and worn in the same country any more. We may have designers in France, textile manufacturers in Italy, garment producers in Vietnam, finishing's (buttons and zippers) from Canada, and the end consumer in Mexico. We need a global standard for all to follow.


Although we lack the international or global regulations regarding chemical substances use, we do have existing regulations to restrict movement of dangerous waste between nations. Such as The United Nations Basel Convention Treaty, which was initially signed in 1989. Although this helps, it is not nearly enough.


We do have a start in regards to chemical substances that are banned in the textile making process. Although it does not cover all the textiles, it does include leather, rubber, foam, adhesives, and trim parts in textiles, apparel and footwear. This is not limited to the finished product, but throughout the supply chain as well.


And then there is REACH, an organization that was started in 2006 to help ensure safe handling of chemicals. It encourages companies to provide safety information on the substances they are using. Manufacturers and importers are both required to gather information on the makeup of the chemical substances, and they are to register the information in the European Chemicals Agency. This is a place where consumers and professionals can find information regarding hazards chemicals.

Shop for organic, naturally dyed clothes.

What can we do?


Shop for organic, naturally dyed clothes. Shop with brands that use sustainably farmed cotton, hemp, and linen. Shop with companies that use innovative circular biomaterials and authentic leather. Support companies that offer a closed-loop chemical waste system, this means the chemicals are recycled within the plant and never leave.


Look for certifications, such as the GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standards) and Standard 100 by OEKO-TEX, the organizations test the textiles for harmful substances, if they pass the test and show no sign of hazardous chemicals then they receive the stamp of approval.


Shop with chemical free clothing brands that care for both the workforce and the end consumers. Shop with brands that have a transparent manufacturing process.


And, finally start adopting sustainable laundry habits. Wash your new purchases before you wear them. If you only wore it for a few hours and it doesn’t look or smell, then save it for another day of wear before you wash it. Wash your laundry in water that is 30°C or approximately 86°F. Washing your clothes on higher temperatures is actually damaging them and releasing more microfibers into the water ways.


Also, wash your polyester (plastic) clothes in a laundry bag designed to catch microplastics, such as the guppyfriend washing bag. This will reduce the microplastics in the waterways. Research shows that 700,000 microplastics are released into the waterways with a single pair of athleisure leggings washed one time.


Look for environmentally friendly washing detergents, avoid the powders and scrubs and instead seek a concentrated liquid. Skip the fabric softener and try air drying, as the heat from the dryer actually breaks down the fibers faster in your clothes.


Dry cleaning is chemical cleaning and is actually more harmful than good. If you live in London you are all set with Blanc, a company that cleans your dry cleaning with eco-technologies (including wet cleaning and liquid CO2 cleaning) and health-friendly methods that are gentle on textiles and efficient on stains.


However, in the United States we have a company called Lapels that offers a process that is 100% environmentally non-toxic dry cleaning, is non-allergenic and meets sustainability practices. Lapels use a liquified sand (silicone) which, when released into the environment, breaks down naturally to sand and water. It is gentle on the garments, thus, helping them last longer.


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