PROTECT Yourself: Avoiding Harmful Chemicals in Clothing

Aran_cardigan1. Choose clothing made from natural, untreated materials whenever possible.

Fabric treatments may emit harmful chemicals, so avoid clothing marked with such labels as “shrinkproof,” “stain resistant,” and “waterproof.” Natural fibers include cotton, wool, linen, hemp, silk, ramie, jute and sisal. Bamboo has gained popularity in the last few years.

Although natural fibers are derived from renewable sources and are biodegradable, those that are not certified organic may still have pesticide residues and may be processed or treated with chemicals during the manufacturing process — whenever possible, buy organic clothing made from certified organic cotton or hemp. Most green companies will tout their eco-friendly dyes and inks on clothing labels, but you can call the company if you’re unsure. Another option is to look for “colorgrown” cotton garments, made of undyed cotton that naturally grows in shades of green, brown, beige, and ruby. Consider washing your clothes before you put them on yourself or your baby.

2. Avoid flame-retardant clothing, which has been treated with polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs. 

These chemicals have been shown to affect hormone systems and thyroid hormones, to cause reproductive harm, and to affect learning and behavior in animal studies. Sleepwear for children under 9 months of age and pajamas that are tight fitting for any age should not contain added flame retardants. To avoid flame retardants in children’s sleepwear altogether (other than making your own), you can purchase snug fitting natural fiber pajamas, such as cotton. To be green and avoid pesticide residues, buy organic natural fiber cotton with low-impact dyes. Sleepwear that is snug fitting meets flammability standards by being tight enough to a child’s body that no stray sleeve can catch fire, and also by not allowing extra air between the fabric and the skin to promote the fire’s growth if accidentally started. How can you tell if the cotton sleepwear in question is flame retardant free? Look for the hang tag that says “must be snug fitting” and “not flame resistant.” Some cotton pajamas may be treated, often with the phosphate chemical tetrakis hydromethyl phosphonium chloride (THPC or Proban, aka Securest). 

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Image credits: Photo by Lisa Dusseault on Wikipedia.