Most clothes in circulation today are toxic to your health and the environment. They contain harmful chemicals that pollute the air, soil, and water sources and damage your skin.
Many fabrics used in the apparel and textile industry aren't healthy, safe, or eco-friendly. And a lot of production processes in garment manufacturing involve hazardous substances.
When buying new clothing, be careful about what you put on your skin. Many textile products are highly dangerous and may lead to cancer, hormonal dysfunction, insomnia, nausea, immunity harm, anorexia, and behavioral problems.
To help you make mindful purchasing decisions as a well-informed consumer, here are some shocking reasons why your clothing is toxic.
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1. Synthetic fabrics release chemicals
The biggest problem with petroleum-based synthetic fabrics is their disastrous environmental impact. Polyester, nylon, acrylic, polyethylene, polypropylene, elastane, and polyurethane releases toxic chemicals into the environment.
These synthetic fabrics aren't biodegradable or compostable. They destroy ecosystems and nature as they break down, polluting entire food chains, endangering land and marine wildlife and human health.
2. Microfibers transport hazardous substances
Materials made from oil create plastic microfibers that end up in our stomachs and lungs. The volume of textile microfibers entering the world's oceans is increasing at an alarming rate.
Half a million tons of plastic microfibers are dumped into the ocean every year, the equivalent of 50 billion plastic bottles. Most synthetic clothes contain plastics that escape through our plumbing and sewage systems.
Microfibers travel to rivers, lakes, and oceans and transport harmful pollutants that pollute drinking water and contaminate seafood. They cause burns, vomiting, diarrhea, drowsiness, reproductive disorders, cancer, and impaired nervous and immune system function.
3. Conventional cotton farming is harmful
Conventional cotton is one of the worst natural fibers. It's wasteful, polluting, ruins biodiversity and soil fertility, threatening end consumers' health and the lives of farmers, workers, and their families.
Cotton production is very chemical-intensive, polluting nearby environments with harmful effects on human health and ecosystems.
Toxic substances used in regular cotton production irritate the skin and cause health disorders such as cell decay and chromosomal aberrations.
Usage restrictions in Europe and the United-States restrict some hazardous chemicals used in cotton farming such as Glyphosate, Trifluralin, Diuron, and Parathion methyl. But in many East-Asian countries, their agricultural use continues.
4. Most textile dyes are toxic
Most chemicals used in garment manufacturing processes such as washing, bleaching, and dyeing are toxic. Textiles dyes often contain hazardous compounds that put the environment and your skin at risk.
The textile processing, dyeing, and treatment of clothes use tons of water and chemicals. Manufacturers discharge millions of gallons of chemically infected water into our waterways every year.
And a single fabric mill can use up to 200 tons of fresh water to dye a ton of fabric. Wastewater charged with harmful chemicals is often released untreated into nearby rivers, eventually spreading into the sea.
5. Fabric treatments use harsh chemicals
Many fabrics undergo harsh chemical treatments using urea resins or formaldehyde to bleach them, alter their properties, make them water repellant, wrinkle-free, or stain resistant.
Finishing treatments are frequently toxic and use multiple substances that deteriorate the health of your skin and body. Heavy chemicals are poisonous to humans and harmful to the environment if released untreated.
6. Regenerated fibers damage the human environment
Semi-synthetic cellulosic fibers contain filaments of regenerated cellulose from a viscous solution. Their production involves chemically-treated wood pulp with carbon disulfide, sulfuric acid, ammonia, acetone, or caustic soda.
Viscose rayon, modal, lyocell, acetate, and cupro all fall into the category of cellulosic fibers that are slowly replacing petroleum-based synthetic fabrics.
7. The fur industry isn't sustainable
To prevent the putrefaction of animal-derived materials like fur, manufacturers use dangerous substances such as acids and bleaches up to unsafe levels.
Factories pollute the air, soils, and water sources in the surrounding environment. Animal wastes also contain high concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus.
8. Animal-based materials are unsafe
Leather tanning is very destructive to the environment, ecosystems, and human health. The processing of animal-derived textiles like leather requires tons of harmful chemicals.
Leather isn't biodegradable or eco-friendly, contrary to popular belief. Around the world, tanning creates large quantities of chromium waste. Chrome-tanning facilities need about 57,000 liters for every ton of hides and produce one ton of solid waste.
Livestock farming is also responsible for massive deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions. Intensive agriculture creates large quantities of methane as a by-product of farm animals' digestion, which accelerates global warming drastically.
Wool is also one of the five most environmentally damaging fiber worldwide. It's responsible for high human and eco-toxicity because wool processing happens with chemicals. Pesticides and insecticides are often used on sheep to keep them free of parasites.
How to avoid toxic clothes
One of the best ways to protect your health and the environment is to buy and wear clothing made of natural, organic, and safe fabrics. Sustainable clothes use materials such as organic cotton, linen, hemp, jute, and ramie.
Organic farming is more expensive but offers many benefits. It's less likely to contribute to acidification and eutrophication of freshwater sources. It also helps soil fertility and biodiversity.
Look for organic certifications such as the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). An audit from a third-party organization is necessary to confirm fibers' quality and eco-friendliness.
Other standards, such as Bluesign and Oeko-Tex, guarantee the highest level of security for consumers. They check for harmful substances in the final product and all materials and intermediate products created within the production chain.
And make sure to wash your clothes properly before wearing them. Wash away chemicals contained in conventional textiles to preserve your health and avoid complications.
Finally, raise awareness and demand change. Hold brands and retailers accountable and ask them what they do to ensure healthy and safe production processes.
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About the Author: Alex Assoune
Alex Assoune (MS) is a global health and environmental advocate. He founded Panaprium to inspire others with conscious living, ethical, and sustainable fashion. Alex has worked in many countries to address social and environmental issues. He speaks three languages and holds two Master of Science degrees in Engineering from SIGMA and IFPEN schools.