Organic or Not, Scary Toxins Linger in Your Clothes Even After Washing

Organic or Not, Scary Toxins Remain in Your Clothes Even After Washing

Some of us have absolutely no qualms about wearing clothes as soon as the price tags are ripped from the waist band, while others have a strict rule of laundering everything before wearing. And while it’s common to think that the latter category means you’re in the clear, we’re here to tell you that this subject is murkier than we once thought thanks to a new study showing that toxins remain in your clothes even after washing.

From the growing process to the transportation process and everything in between, the course of garment manufacturing involves infiltrating our clothing with a ridiculous amount of chemicals. A recent thesis written by PhD student, Giovanna Luongo, from the Department of Environmental Science and Analytical Chemistry at Stockholm University, revealed some frightening details about how it all goes down.

When it comes to using natural fibers, like cotton, pesticides and herbicides may be used during its cultivation, as well as biocides and fungicides during transportation and storage. And in this case, even the animals don’t go unscathed – parasiticides are often applied to sheep even before they’re sheared in order to control external parasites in wool.

Furthermore, the organic variety of cotton wasn’t entirely excluded either, because according to Ecouterre, which recently covered Luongo’s new findings, it still “contained high concentrations of benzothiazoles, a group of rubber-related chemicals – the same ones found in synthetic turf – that can act as respiratory irritants and dermal sensitizers,” with eco-friendly labeled organic clothing actually containing as much as 30 times more of this particular chemical in its highest concentration than regular cotton clothing.

The contamination of organic materials, along with the numerous chemicals that were found, but were not on the researchers’ lists to begin with, is being explained through the theory of transference via byproducts and residues picked up during transport.

Not surprisingly, synthetic fibers were also found to be toxic, often containing various solvents and additives, like “quinolines, a potential human carcinogen that has been linked to liver damage, and aromatic amines, which are found in tobacco smoke and diesel exhaust,” reports Ecouterre, with polyester containing the largest concentration of these particular chemicals – and it doesn’t come out with the wash.

Of the 60 garments laundered as part of the testing process for Luongo’s thesis, Stockholm University reports that although some of the substances were washed away, ultimately resulting in aquatic environment contamination, researchers found a “high degree” of chemicals still remaining in the washed clothing therefore becoming a “potential source of long-term dermal exposure.”

Unless you’re a ‘round the clock nudist, then chances are you’ll be wearing clothes for a large chunk of your life, which means the recent findings about the toxins that still remain in your clothing even after they’ve been laundered directly affect you, your family, your friends, and pretty anyone else you know. And although much of what has been uncovered doesn’t have definitive answers yet, it does seem as though future testing will be on the horizon since the long term consequences of having our skin in direct contact with chemical residue remains “difficult to assess and requires considerably more research” according to the Stockholm University report.

It’s unclear whether detergents were used during the washing process of the researchers’ clothing items, or whether the particular soaps they used, if any, contributed to the overall chemical saturation, but hot water was mentioned in Luongo’s thesis and it may aid in a greater wash out of some chemicals. Although this negatively impacts the wastewater supply through more aquatic chemical contamination, it may mean that fewer toxins are left to come into contact with your skin.

Aside from extensive laundering prior to wearing your new purchases, granted that your detergents are chemical-free as well, this is the best piece of advice we can provide to you, the consumer, without the ability to test every item on the spot before it’s sold, even by the 100 percent organic, hand-made, home-grown, chemical-free manufacturers. Remember to buy and wear at your own risk and take the necessary precautions to protect your skin from the toxins that may be lurking in your closet.

What are your thoughts on the chemical contamination of clothing? Are you surprised to learn that even organic cotton is not excluded from the danger zone? Let us know what you thought about this piece on the EcoSalon Facebook page.  

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Image of Woman Doing Laundry via Shutterstock

Jamie Duncan

After starting out in public relations, Jamie finished college with a BFA in interior design. This combination of writing and design knowledge, coupled with her fashion and lifestyle expertise, has paved the way for an exciting freelance career. Her work has been published in magazines and online, plus she’s managed PR campaigns, and is no stranger to copywriting. Jamie’s a vegetarian and cruelty-free product fanatic. Connect with her on Twitter and check out her website to learn more.