Aren't all Fabrics Safe?

Aren't all fabrics safe? The textile industry uses various chemicals to turn coarse fibers into the soft, lustrous, smooth, colorful fabrics we demand. In textile manufacturing: organic fibers are washed, sized, de-sized, bleached, dyed, treated with detergents, optical brighteners, biocides, wetting agents, lubricants, sequestering agents, stabilizers, emulsifiers, complexing agents, and more.

The American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists Buyers Guide for 2007 lists over 2000 chemicals used in textile manufacturing – many of which are known to bioaccumulate, persist in our environment, and are associated with a host of human health issues, such as infertility, autoimmune diseases, cancers, nervous system disorders, and many others1.

It takes from 10% to 100% of the weight of the fabric in chemical additives to produce the fabric to cover an average sofa. And since one average size sofa uses about 25 yards of fabric, which weighs about 1 lb. per yard on average, then the total weight of the fabric to cover a sofa would be 25 lbs., so from 2.5 to 25 pounds of chemicals were used to produce the fabric.

And the finished fabric, advertised as being made from 100% cotton, is made of 73% cotton fibers and 27% "other" such as

  • 2% polyacrylic
  • 8% dyestuff
  • 14% urea formaldehyde
  • 3% softening agents
  • 0.3% optical brighteners

The fabrics we bring into our homes contain various chemicals by weight - chemicals, which are often outlawed in other products. These chemicals, which remain in the fabric, are absorbed by our bodies. Some chemicals evaporate into the air; some absorb through our skin. Another way our bodies absorb these chemicals is over time. Microscopic particles are abraded and fall into the dust in our homes, where we can breathe them in.

Publishing studies found that chemicals found in conventional fabrics specifically link to diseases.

The fabrics we live with contain chemicals that have proved to affect us in many ways, from subtle to profound: in terms of infertility, asthma, nervous disorders (ranging from depression and anxiety to brain tumors), immune system suppression, and genetic alteration. And the industry pollutes our groundwater by dumping untreated effluent into our waterways, where it circulates the globe.

It stands to reason why we'd want safe fabrics, right?

Next: Can tiny amounts of chemicals hurt me?