January 16, 2017
Last Updated:
March 4, 2021

Are these Chemicals Lurking in Your Clothes?

In today’s world, it’s impossible to completely eliminate your exposure to chemicals—but there’s certainly no harm in taking easy steps to reduce it. Perhaps you have already made your house less toxic by purchasing organic produce, using natural household cleaners or adding water filters. But the closet may be an overlooked place that could contain harmful chemicals. The clothes we wear every day could pose potential health risks from allergies to cancer, researchers say. 

Although there aren’t a lot of studies on the matter, a 2015 study at Stockholm University found that thousands of chemicals are used in clothing manufacturing, and even organic cotton may contain some.

"Exposure to these chemicals increases the risk of allergic dermatitis, but more severe health effect for humans as well as the environment could possibly be related to these chemicals,” says Giovanna Luongo, PhD in Analytical Chemistry at Stockholm University, via Science Daily. “Some of them are suspected or proved carcinogens and some have aquatic toxicity.”

So should you be concerned? If you threw out every piece of chemical-containing clothing, you’d probably be left with an empty closet. After all, the Swedish study found that even some organic fabrics aren’t completely free of chemicals. But it’s still important to be aware of the materials being used and ask yourself if you can take any steps to lessen your exposure. After all, your clothing sits on your skin—the largest organ in your body!

Here are some specific clothes to examine, although this is just a sliver of items on the list of things that could contain toxic chemicals. 

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Wrinkle-free shirts and pants
It’s no fun ironing clothes before work, which is why wrinkle-free shirts are so popular. But keep in mind that they’re made with formaldehyde. This chemical exists in many household items, and a New York Times article points out that the U.S. doesn’t regulate formaldehyde levels in clothing or require manufacturers to list it on labels. So although it’s fairly difficult to avoid formaldehyde in your clothing, in general, buying shirts that require ironing could help you lessen the exposure. Washing new clothes before wearing them may also reduce formaldehyde levels. The main concern with low levels of formaldehyde is skin irritation, but lab studies have also detected nasal cancer in rats exposed to it.

Workout gear
Pay attention to your exercise attire, as this Shape report points out that they rub against your skin as you move, as well as while you sweat. Sweat-wicking clothes, in particular, may be made with chemical-filled synthetics. Some of these include substances like triclosan, which has been linked to liver and thyroid issues. Shape suggests finding workout gear with the bluesign system certification, which means the clothing has a minimum amount of hazardous chemicals. Like wrinkle-free items, you can also reduce the risk of chemical exposure by washing your workout gear before wearing. 

Blue clothing
That bright shirt might be made from synthetic dyes that can cause skin irritation. According to Everyday Health, blue and orange dyes are the biggest culprits. The book “Killer Clothes” states that of all the synthetic dyes, the “Disperse Blue” family causes the most allergic reactions. So if you’re sensitive to synthetic dyes, opt for a natural blue hue. 

Do you pay attention to what your clothes are made of? Share with us here.  

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