Wearing toxin-free clothing is just as important as eating a natural diet and using chemical-free skincare products. After all, our skin is in contact with clothes almost every hour of the day! Chemical free clothing is not only healthier for the skin (especially children's), but less harmful to the environment and easier to recycle.
Now you may be wondering which clothes might contain toxins and how you can avoid these items from ending up in your closet. We’ve asked ourselves the very same question – and did the research for you! In this article, we show you how to recognise chemical free clothing and give you a guide to the most important sustainability certifications.
What should I look out for when buying clothes?
A simple rule of thumb to get you started: trust your nose and take a decent sniff of a piece before buying it. Are you hit by a strong chemical scent? Well, then it’s better to leave the item on the rack! A neutral smell? Good sign! Next, check if the washing instructions state "non-ironing" or "wrinkle-resistant." Even though it sounds like a helpful instruction, these pieces might contain synthetic fibers or toxins which aren’t so kind to your skin.
The washing instructions can also tell you the composition of the fibers. This tells you what your clothes are actually made of. There are several different types of fibres:
The best choice to protect yourself from chemicals, as well as protecting the environment, is to choose natural fibres derived from plants. Synthetic fibers like Polyester, Acryl or Elastane may give clothes some elasticity or make them less wrinkly. But just to give one example, Polyester is made from petroleum, which releases harmful emissions during manufacturing and easily irritates sensitive skin. It's definitely better to iron clothes a little more often, than to choose a T-shirt made from synthetic fibres!
As soon as several types of fibres are mixed together, it becomes practically impossible to recycle the item of clothing in question. But even before that, there is damage done to the environment. As synthetic fibres are water-soluble and can enter our groundwater in the form of microplastic. But there is good news! You can prevent microplastic particles from dissolving whilst washing, by using a natural wash bag.
To sum it all up, the more natural the better!
What pollutants and chemicals should I avoid?
Alkylphenols, chlorophenols, phthalates. Nope, we're not talking about a cheat sheet for the next chemistry exam, but about dangerous toxins that are often found in our clothing. Such chemicals can cause skin irritations, allergies and in the worst cases even organ-damage and cancer. Not just to the people who make our clothes, but also to those who have come into contact with them. Here is a list of the worst culprits that should be avoided.
Azo dyes and phthalates - they are used for bright colours and cuddly prints, but can cause skin irritations and even be carcinogenic.
Heavy metals (nickel, lead, cadmium, mercury) - they find their way into our clothes via prints or cheaply manufactured zippers. But they are toxins that harm our bodies and the environment.
Per- and poly-fluorinated chemicals (PFC) - They are often found in water- and dirt-repellent outdoor clothing and can accumulate in human tissue and have a damaging effect on hormones. Thankfully there are brands with PFC-free outerwear like Tatonka, as well as natural textile impregnations that make your clothes water repellent.
Brominated & chlorinated flame retardants - These substances are supposed to reduce the flammability of textiles, but they affect our hormonal balances, can be carcinogenic and damage the environment.
Chlorobenzenes - used as solvents and can damage the central nervous system.
- Organotin compounds - used as anti-mold agents, but like the brominated flame retardant, can cause hormonal imbalances.
Now that we've gotten past the negative, let's move on to the optimistic part! Luckily, there are a number of sustainability certificates that make it easy for you to find sustainable and toxin-free clothing. With them, you can be sure that your clothes are good to the environment and your health, and that no toxins were used in production.
What sustainability certifications are there?
There are almost as many sustainability certificates as there is microplastic in our oceans. But not all of them are equally meaningful, since some individual certificates created by large fashion brands are hardly controlled at all. Here are the most important sustainability certifications to look out for when buying chemical free clothing.
The International Association of the Natural Textile Industry (IVN) has developed the IVN Best, a particularly strict eco-label. It excludes synthetic fibers (giving the conditions for a circular economy) and checks the entire manufacturing process from the sourcing to the final product.
GOTS stands for "Global Organic Textile Standard". This certificate is one of the most transparent and trustworthy and monitors the entire production process. In addition to at least 70 percent natural fibers from controlled organic origin, a maximum of 30 percent recycled fibers may be included. Does the GOTS certificate look familiar? No wonder - all our heavenly soft kids and women basics are GOTS certified!
All fibers of the final product are tested for harmful substances according to the Oeko-Tex Standard. Made in Green also looks at factors like environmental performance, workers safety, social responsibility and more. It certifies natural mixed and recycled fibers only.
This seal stands for certified cotton that is produced and traded under fair working conditions and ensures decent working conditions and minimum wages.
Where do I go from here?
If you are excited to shop sustainable and chemical free clothing, you can buy certified second-hand clothes in a shop, or online on wonderful sites like Vinted, Depop or Poshmark. On my of the sites you can also sell your old clothes. If you want a new outfit instead, there are many great online shops like Urbankissed, Loveco or Staiy. You can also have a look directly on the websites of the certifications. Many of them have links to all the certified brands or even feature their own online stores. By now there are also many local stores which exclusively offer certified and chemical free clothing. There is sure to be one around your corner!
Cheap fast fashion items can be really tempting, but sustainable clothing is the far wiser choice when it comes to health, the environment and all people involved! If you want to shop chemical free clothes for yourself and your loved ones, you now know what to watch out for:
- Read the tag: what fibers and ingredients are in the clothes?
- Avoid plastic prints, sequins and cheaply processed materials
- Choose natural fibers instead of synthetic fibers
- Look for sustainability certifications
At Orbasics we deeply care about making clothes that are good for you and the environment. If you are interested in the origin of your clothes, you can find all the details about our production in this article.
And if you want to find out even more about this topic, here are some additional links.
Sustainability Certifications checked by Greenpeace
Green online Marketplaces to shop: