We are in the midst of fall which means big baggy sweaters and sweatpants to keep us warm on a cool fall evening. These days, your clothing is made to stay wrinkle-free, drier, and longer lasting. However, the trade off on better performing clothing is that it usually comes with a chemical cocktail that is full of toxins.
A toxin is a poison – any substance that’s dangerous to the human body. That includes some that are familiar to you such as lead, mercury, and cadmium, industrial chemicals and pollutants, and pesticides. Toxins are also found in common products you may not think of as being toxic, such as home cleaning products, body products, and even your clothing!
The ugly truth is that 80% of new industrial chemicals are approved within 3 weeks or less with little to no safety testing done – and that includes chemicals used in your toxic clothing. This adds to your body’s toxic burden and can put you further along the autoimmune spectrum.
Don’t worry, I’m going to tell you about my two-step approach to taming the toxins, your body’s natural detoxifier, and how you can support your body’s production of it. First, let’s discuss the toxins in your toxic clothing.
6 Toxins in Your Clothing
I understand that it can be overwhelming to think of all the toxic chemicals you could be putting in your body from your food, the air you breathe, the water you drink, or the skincare products you put on your body … and now your clothing. However, it doesn’t have to be. Understanding what chemicals are in your toxic clothing can help you lower your body’s toxic burden. Here are 6 chemicals that may be in your toxic clothing.
A solvent is any substance that is used to dissolve a chemical. The most common solvent is water, however, gas and solids can also be used as a solvent. The most common place solvents are used in your clothing is at the dry cleaner. Dry cleaning does not involve a full-water bath for your clothes. Instead, they use hydrocarbon-based chemicals as solvents to remove stains.
When your clothing returns home with that distinctive dry-cleaned smell, it is not a good thing. That means that there is chemical residue on your clothes that will come in contact with your skin. A good way to avoid these toxic chemicals is to find a dry cleaner that uses non-toxic cleaners such as silicone.
Solvents are also used in the dyeing process to serve as water and stain repellents. They can also inhibit bacteria growth in your clothing, act as flame retardants, and play the role of plasticizers to help designs adhere to fabric.1
AZO dyes are commonly used in fast fashion brands because they’re inexpensive. Do you remember that saying, “you get what you pay for?” This applies to AZO dyes. While this group of dyes are effective, unfortunately, they are highly toxic and have a carcinogenic effect.2
AZO dyes are water soluble, which means they are easily absorbed by your skin and could cause skin and eye irritation.3
It’s always a good idea to look for clothing that has not been dyed, often labeled “undyed” or “natural.” Washing your clothes before their first wear will wash off any excess dye that was used and minimize your exposure.
That new clothes smell you detect when you bring home that bag from the mall is likely the smell of toxic chemicals used to finish your clothes. Clothing labeled as wrinkle resistant, iron-free, permanent press, or stain resistant is often finished with formaldehyde. Not only are formaldehydes a carcinogen, they are also linked to headaches, sore throat, and skin irritation.4
Even though the United States and Canada have declared formaldehyde to be toxic, many clothing companies still use this toxic chemical to finish clothing. Most all-cotton clothing contains formaldehyde that is intended to make it wrinkle-free and keep it from shrinking.5
A way to tell if your clothing has formaldehyde is to look at the tag. If your clothing tag says wrinkle-free, stain-free, static-free, or the fabric has a strong chemical smell, it has most likely been saturated with formaldehyde. Some companies, such as Patagonia, have banned the use of formaldehyde.6
If you do buy clothing with formaldehyde, you can remove about 60% of it by washing them before wearing.
PFAS & PFCS
If your clothing is stain- or water-resistant, it was likely made with a group of chemicals called perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) or perfluorocarbon (PFCS). These types of chemicals are often referred to as “forever chemicals” because they do not break down easily. While perfluorocarbons are not toxic, they are among the most potent and longest-lasting types of greenhouse gases.7
PFAS are better known as flame retardants. These chemicals are often used in firefighting foam to extinguish actively burning petroleum-based fires. They are found in common household products such as non-stick pans, waxes, paints, cleaning products, and polishes. PFAS can accumulate and stay in your body for long periods of time, increasing your body’s toxic burden.
To avoid your exposure to PFAS it’s best to avoid stain-resistant treatments in your clothing, watch packaged foods that are greasy or oily, check your personal care products, and avoid Teflon™ or non-stick cookware.
Don’t you love activewear? It’s so comfortable. However, a lot of activewear contains phthalates, a group of chemicals that make plastics more durable. These chemicals are toxic and are often used in activewear clothing to make them more durable. Phthalates are on the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” list of toxic chemicals because of their adverse health effects, such as hormone imbalance, increased risk of cancer, obesity, and reduced testosterone in men.8
It’s almost impossible to avoid phthalates completely. They are used in everything from nail polish, carpeting, vinyl flooring, shower curtains, raincoats, plastic toys, and even your car’s steering wheel. They are even found in water and food. A few ways to reduce your exposure is to stay away from fragrances or anything with the word fragrance on the label. That usually means phthalates. Instead, look for words such as “no synthetic fragrance” or “scented with only essential oils.”
Ammonia is a versatile laundry additive, vanquishing stains and dissolving grease as well as whitening whites and softening your bath towels. It is often found in many laundry detergents and products.
Your body actually uses ammonia (NH3), a base, to synthesize L-Glutamine and to maintain an acid-base balance in your kidneys. Your kidneys selectively send ammonia to your urine or stores it to your renal vein to maintain that balance.9
While ammonia has beneficial uses in your body, too much exposure to ammonia can have adverse health effects such as liver and kidney damage. It also can cause irritation to your eyes and skin. Because your body is already exposed to ammonia, it’s best to avoid it in your cleaning products. That includes your laundry detergent and chlorine bleach – look for ammonia-free versions.
Why it Matters
As I mentioned earlier, toxins are everywhere. We are exposed to thousands of toxins every day, even if you think you live a very “clean” lifestyle. In fact, a lot of the chemicals found in our toxic clothing, cleaning products, cosmetics, and cookware have been approved for use by the U.S. government and deemed safe.
As of right now, about 80,000 chemicals are registered for use in the US, and every year about 1,700 more are quickly approved in less than a month and with little to no testing. Our government leaves it up to the company itself to do the testing and tell us it’s safe. And if a product is made up of five ingredients they test each one separately for safety – not all five together. And yes, these chemicals do wind up inside your body.
Toxic Clothing & Autoimmunity
Consider a lifetime of eating and absorbing these toxic chemicals through your skin and the effect it has on your long term health. It’s a study no one has officially conducted, however the rise in autoimmunity, allergies, asthma, autism, and countless other diseases would likely look quite different if our lives weren’t so toxic.
The effects of toxins on our bodies are complex. After all, there are thousands of chemicals out there, and we’re just beginning to understand how they work on the body – not to mention, how they work in conjunction with one another. What we do know is that a heavy toxic burden puts you at greater risk for developing an autoimmune disease, and there are a few theories as to why.
One thought is that certain toxins, especially heavy metals, physically damage your tissues. Your immune system no longer recognizes these damaged cells as part of your own body, and attacks them, thinking they’re foreign invaders.
Another theory is that the damage inflicted by toxins elicits an inflammatory response from the immune system. The constant assault of chronic exposure puts the immune system on high alert and it begins attacking everything, including your own tissues. However, there is a solution: Prevention and detoxification.
The Solution to Toxic Clothing
Yes, you will be exposed to toxins in your environment, however, lowering your body’s toxic burden through my two-step approach can tame the effects toxins have on your health.
The best thing you can do to lighten your toxic burden is to prevent the toxins from getting into your body in the first place. You may not have control over everything, but you do have control over your own home and what you put on your body.
If your home is toxin-free, you’ll have a little bit more leeway when it comes to your clothing. However, you should still avoid toxins in your clothing when you can. Here are ways to avoid toxins in your toxic clothing:
- Find a dry cleaner that uses non-toxic chemicals: Most dry cleaners use solvents containing hydrocarbon-based chemicals to remove stains. Fine one that uses silicone-based cleaners.
- Check your labels: If your clothing is labeled “undyed” or “natural” that means it’s free of AZO dyes. Also, look for clothes that were treated with stain-resistant chemicals, watch packaged foods that are greasy or oily, check your personal care products, and avoid Teflon™ or non-stick cookware. Find athletic wear that uses terms such as “no synthetic fragrance” or “scented with only essential oils.”
- Shop non-toxic clothing brands: A little research can go a long way. Look for clothing brands that have committed to not using toxic chemicals such as formaldehyde, PFCS, or phthalates. Some companies, such as Patigonia, have banned the use of formaldehyde and other toxic chemicals.
- Wash your clothes before wearing them: Washing your clothes before their first wear will wash off any excess dye that was used and minimize your exposure. It also removes about 60% of formaldehyde if you purchase clothing that was finished with it.
- Use toxic-free laundry products: Many cleaning products contain ammonia. While ammonia has beneficial uses in your body, too much exposure to it can cause liver and kidney damage as well as irritating your eyes and skin. It’s best to use non-chlorine bleach and detergents free of this stain-removing chemical.
Prevention is key because as I mentioned, you can’t stop all toxins from entering your body so you need to consistently remove them to limit their effect. Did you know your body produces its own powerful detoxifier called glutathione? It is synthesized in the liver from the amino acids L-cysteine, L-glutamic acid, and glycine.
Glutathione’s natural production can be slowed as a result of autoimmune disease, medications, stress, trauma, aging, infections, a poor diet, pollution, and radiation. When you’re under stress or toxic burden, glutathione is rapidly depleted, so a glutathione supplement is crucial in helping your body combat these challenges. Unfortunately, most oral glutathione supplements on the market just don’t work!
I formulated Acetyl-Glutathione which uses an acetylation process and microcluster molecular structure – the most advanced available. This ensures that it won’t break down before your body has a chance to absorb it and that it is in the right form to actually be absorbed. I recommend supplementing with extra glutathione while your body is trying to excrete toxins, especially if you are anywhere on the autoimmune spectrum.
We are exposed to toxins every day, including by our toxic clothing. The good news is that through prevention and detoxification you can lower your body’s toxic burden. Always check your labels on your clothing and use non-toxic laundry detergent and chlorine-free bleach to lower your exposure to toxins in your clothing.
- Chemical Solvents and Supplies. Apparel Search. 2021.
- Risk Assessment for Carcinogenic Effects. United States Environmental Protection Agency. 1996.
- Azo dye. Encyclopedia Britannica. 2017.
- Facts About Formaldehyde. United States Environmental Protection Agency. 2021.
- Formaldehyde In Clothing. David J. Hanson. Chemical & Engineering News. 2010.
- Environmental Constraint = Better Quality. Patagonia. 2021.
- What are PFCs and How Do They Relate to Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFASs)?. United States Environmental Protection Agency. 2021.
- Dirty Dozen Endocrine Disruptors. Environmental Working Group. 2013.
- Renal ammonia metabolism and transport. David Weiner. Comprehensive Physiology vol. 3. 2013.