Six Ways To Reduce Exposure To Textile Toxins

toxic textiles and how to reduce your exposure

I’ve previously discussed some of the toxins found in textiles, but I don’t want to leave you feeling alarmed without any way to address this issue. Here are six ways to help you reduce exposure to toxins in the textiles in your home and in particular in your kids’ bedrooms

1.    Avoid polyester

Polyester contains antimony that as noted above is a known carcinogen.

Also, polyester is incredibly flammable. So chemical companies have created flame retardants that are added to the already nasty chemicals that make up the fabric to keep them from melting.

Flame retardants could leach out of the fabric and exposure is linked to numerous really scary health effects. Tests conducted by the Environmental Working Group found much higher concentrations of fire retardants known as PBDE in young children than in their mothers.

Petroleum-based petrochemicals mixed with flame retardents in our beds? In our KID’S beds? Has the world gone completely mad?

Studies also find phthalates, cobalt and other toxins in polyester fabrics.

Polyester is also energy intensive to produce and in producing polyester, greenhouse gases are released to the air

While polyester is pretty much everywhere in our kids’ products (baby blankets, PJs, sleep sacks, clothing, etc. etc.), you can reduce it with organic, natural fibres.

I’m not suggesting going through your closets to pitch all the polyester items you have. I have a fair share of hand-me-down polyester items.  However, you can make a deliberate effort to read labels and not buy products made from polyester. I do this and have significantly reduced the amount of polyester in my house.

The first place to eliminate polyester is in baby’s blankets and bedding. Lovely soft natural alternatives are out there.

 2.    Avoid anything foam (especially foam mattresses and pillows)

Foam is made from petroleum and contains many chemical additives including formaldehyde, benzene and other established toxic chemicals.  This is bad nasty off-gassing stuff.

When buying mattresses or pillows, look for organic cotton, wool, or latex (natural rubber).

Cotton and wool won’t burst into flames, are natural, non-toxic and breathable

Look for natural-filled duvets with an organic cotton outer layer. Some good choices are duvets filled with cotton, wool, kapok, or spun bamboo.

See this healthy home tip from the Environmental Working Group  to help avoid products using brominated fire retardants.

To avoid off-gassing foam pillows, wool pillows are a good alternative.

 3.    Don’t buy anything made from PVC (vinyl)

PVC is known as the ‘poison plastic’.

PVC is made from phthalates – as mentioned above, these mimic human hormones. The chemicals can be released into the environment because the binds they form with plastics are weak.

Do not buy vinyl covered mattresses for babies and kids. There are plenty of better kid’s mattresses to choose.

For those of us with hand-me-down mattresses, wrap the mattress in thick organic cotton or wool mattress covers. Also, some products use low density food grade polyethylene for waterproofing mattresses, or mattress covers. These are phthalate free.

Many backpacks, toys, trinkets etc. are made from PVC.  I do a sniff test. If it has a strong chemical smell to it, it’s likely made from PVC. Also, for most kids products unless it says it is PVC free, it likely isn’t.

The Centre for Health, Environment and Justice has lots of great resources on products that contain PVC and how to avoid it.

reduce toxins in children's textiles

4.    Be weary of conventional cotton

Conventional cotton is treated with a myriad of chemicals: silicone waxes, petrochemical dyes,  formaldehyde, volatile organic compounds, dioxin-producing bleach, chemical fabric softeners and brighteners, flame retardents, and ammonia, to name a few.

Phthalates that attack the hormone system are in many pesticides.

Conventional cotton is made with what are considered some of the most toxic chemicals in the world. And a lot of them. In fact, 50% of ALL THE CHEMICALS used in the world for agriculture is used by the cotton industry.  Green Peace’s Dirty Laundry Campaign  warns us of the water pollution resulting from the release of these chemicals and the threat to eco systems and human health.

Up to 77 million cotton workers a year suffer poisoning from pesticides.

Azo dyes contain a heavy metal that can “migrate” from the fabric, with possible risk of skin penetration. These are in a lot of the conventional cottons out there.

The European Commission’s Health and Consumers Scientific Committee warned that textile goods coloured with azo dyes are linked to cancer causing toxins, and should be a concern for consumers (and not to mention workers).

Given that baby and kids’ skin has a natural sensitivity, the health risk of exposure to azo dyes could be high.

Then there’s the seed itself – conventional cotton is grown with genetically modified seeds. Monsanto now controls 95% of the cotton seed market in India.

 5.    Choose organic cotton

Organic cotton is free from all toxic chemicals.

Cotton is naturally flame resistant so organic cotton products don’t contain flame retardants.

There are no harmful dyes or other additives in organic cotton.

From the production side of things, organic cotton never uses genetically modified seed. Organic farmers grow a diversity of crops to maintain healthy, fertile soils. Organic farming uses less water, and produces 94% LESS greenhouse gas emissions. Organic cotton production protects the livelihood of farmers.

Some third party certification labels to look for are GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standards), SKAL International, OE100, and Soil Association.

GOTS ensures products meet strict environmental and social criteria during the processing and along the whole supply chain. Dream Child organic bedding is made from cotton that is GOTS certified.

Obviously you can’t buy organic all the time. The rule in my house is all organic sheets, pillow cases, and duvet covers. I figure if there is one place where I want to eliminate my chance of any bad stuff migrating onto the skin and being inhaled is where we are sleeping.

6. Be your family’s safe living advocate

Companies seem to have very little concern for the toxins in their products. They continue to add nasty additives to make our stuff softer, more ‘durable’, more pliable, brighter, whiter, and of course, cheaper.

Industry lobbies say that just because toxins appear in a product, it doesn’t automatically mean there is a risk or cause of concern. Why would we believe them?!

Governments in Canada and the United States are keeping up with the pace of industry. The ban in Canada on BPA in baby products is a great start. But it’s a drop in the bucket of chemical soup of our world.

We can’t wait until policy-makers catch up.  We can and must empower ourselves as consumers and deliberately eliminate our purchase/consumption of bad products. We can and must become. Safe choices are out there.

Next step? Challenge yourself to spend a whole month not buying polyester products!  No PVC products! If you need new bedding, buy organic!