My natural fiber clothing detox
When buying clothes, I used to consider the following four points: appearance, comfort, size and price. I never considered the fabric of the clothing – as long as it fit my style, body and bank account balance, I was a happy camper.
Recently, I’ve added one more condition that my clothes must meet: they must be made of natural fiber such as cotton, linen, wool or silk. On my journey to a natural lifestyle in order to holistically address my autoimmune disease, I’ve adjusted many aspects of my life including my diet, my skin/hair/body care products, supplements, the quality of my drinking/bathing water and even my mattress. But until a few months ago, I didn’t think about detoxing my closet.
I don’t have the means to revamp my whole wardrobe, as limited as it is, with natural fiber pieces. As of 3 months ago, however, I made the vow to only purchase clothing made with at least 90% natural fiber. Slowly, I’m transitioning my closet to natural fiber pieces.
Natural fibers vs. synthetic fabric
Natural fiber clothing is made from natural materials that have been used to make clothing for thousands of years. Natural fibers include:
- Linen (made from flax)
- Jute (a very coarse fiber used for things like carpets, not clothing)
Synthetic fabrics could be considered plastic fabric. In a process called polymerization, chemically-derived fibers are joined together to create fabric. It requires a numerous chemicals and solvents to create any type of synthetic fabric (see #2 below). Common synthetic fabrics include polyester, rayon, modal, spandex and nylon.
Bamboo fabric, which is referred to as bamboo rayon or bamboo viscose, may sound like a natural fiber but it is produced more like a synthetic fabric which is why I avoid it. Bamboo fibers are extremely coarse and rough. As a result, it must undergo extensive processing with caustic chemicals to create a soft material. According to Patagonia, these are the steps required to produce bamboo rayon:
Cellulose material (such as bamboo) is dissolved in a strong solvent to make a thick, viscous solution that is forced through a spinneret into a quenching solution where strands solidify into fiber. This is sometimes called hydrolysis alkalization or solution spinning because the fiber is “spun” in a chemical solution. The solvent used for this process is carbon disulfide, a toxic chemical that is a known human reproductive hazard. It can endanger factory workers and pollute the environment via air emissions and wastewater. The recovery of this solvent in most viscose factories is around 50%, which means that the other half goes into the environment. Other potentially hazardous chemicals are also used in the viscose process, including sodium hydroxide and sulfuric acid. (Source and read more)
The choice to purchase natural fiber clothing reduces your toxic burden and the toxic burden on the environment. Here are 5 reasons why I’m transitioning my closet to natural fibers!
1. I intuitively favored natural fiber clothing
The revelation that spurred my switch to natural fiber clothing happened just a few months ago. One day, I realized that I was reaching for the same clothing items over and over again while avoiding newer, nicer clothes that were just as comfortable. Why did I choose my threadbare cotton bathrobe over my fluffy fleece bathrobe? Why did I ignore the stretchy Athleta leggings that I had recently splurged on?
I realized that the items I obsessively wore were made from 100% cotton (plus my one and only 100% cashmere sweater). The clothing options that I intuitively ignored – even though they felt comfortable – were made from a blend of synthetic fibers such as rayon, polyester and nylon. This led me to research how synthetic fiber is made and how it may affect health.
2. Natural fiber clothing is less toxic than synthetic fiber
When it comes to body care products and cosmetics, we know that 60% of what we put on our skin is absorbed into the bloodstream. If clothes are treated with chemicals, and then we put the clothes on our skin, will our skin absorb some of the chemicals? That’s my theory!
According to BodyEcology.com, these are some of the chemicals utilized in the production of synthetic fabric:
1. Polyester is the worst fabric you can buy. It is made from synthetic polymers that are made from esters of dihydric alcohol and terpthalic acid.
2. Acrylic fabrics are polycrylonitriles and may cause cancer, according to the EPA.
3. Rayon is recycled wood pulp that must be treated with chemicals like caustic soda, ammonia, acetone and sulphuric acid to survive regular washing and wearing.
4. Acetate and Triacetate are made from wood fibers called cellulose and undergo extensive chemical processing to produce the finished product.
5. Nylon is made from petroleum and is often given a permanent chemical finish that can be harmful.
6. Anything static resistant, stain resistant, permanent press, wrinkle-free, stain proof or moth repellant. Many of the stain resistant and wrinkle-free fabrics are treated with perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), like Teflon. (Source and read more)
While we need more research to understand how wearing toxic fabrics can affect health, we do have hints of the dangers of the chemicals. This Canadian study found that women working in acrylic textile factories had seven times the risk of breast cancer than the normal population. Women working in nylon factories had double the risk of breast cancer.
Another point to keep in mind is the toxicity of chemicals used in dry cleaning. During the dry cleaning process, garments are doused with the toxic chemical perchloroethylene, or PERC, for short.
According to the EPA’s Chemical Fact Sheet on PERC:
Breathing PERC for short periods of time can adversely affect the human nervous system.[…] Breathing
perchloroethylene over longer periods of time can cause liver and kidney damage in humans. Workers exposed repeatedly to large amounts of PERC in air can also experience memory loss and confusion. Laboratory studies show that PERC causes kidney and liver damage and cancer in animals exposed repeatedly by inhalation and by mouth. Repeat exposure to large amounts of PERC in air may likewise cause cancer in humans. (Source)
I avoid purchasing clothes that require dry cleaning to avoid exposure to PERC. Often, clothes that say Dry Clean Only can be hand washed carefully and laid flat to dry.
3. Natural fiber clothing is more sustainable
When it comes to the sustainability of clothing, natural fiber clothing is generally more sustainable than synthetic fibers which require high energy use and crude oil (source).
Additionally, because natural fibers are plant materials, they decompose quickly. Because synthetic fibers are essentially plastic, they are not quickly biodegradable.
When it comes to cotton, organic cotton is significantly more eco-friendly than conventionally-grown cotton. Conventional cotton uses more pesticides than any other crop, accounting for 10% of world-wide pesticide use (source). Further, almost 90% of non-organic cotton is genetically modified (source), which contributes to the high levels of pesticides and poses further environmental damage. Other plant fibers such as linen and hemp use very little pesticides and are not genetically modified.
4. Natural fiber clothing is a better investment
Have you ever noticed how well your favorite cotton t-shirt holds up over the years? I’ve found that my 100% cotton clothes hold up much longer than my synthetic clothes. The few items of linen clothing I have also seem to last forever in beautiful shape. On the other hand, synthetic fabric begins to break down much more quickly, especially with frequent washing. I’ve noticed that the fabric begins to “pill” – the fabric breaks down and gets fuzzy.
Natural fiber clothing may be more expensive up front, but I’ve found that it’s a better investment in the long run. Not to mention a better investment in the environment!
5. Natural fiber clothing has a “natural” vibration
Many of my readers demand, “show me the studies” whenever I discuss health and nutrition. While controlled, peer-reviewed studies often have an important role to play in our understanding of health, they will not provide answers or insight in all situations. This point is (as yet) non-scientific in the sense of Western science and may seem like an esoteric concept to some of you. However, it makes a lot of sense to me!
Do you remember from biology class that the atoms making up anything are always vibrating? Everything has a unique vibration. From each organ in your body to the chair in which you are sitting, everything resonates with a specific frequency. Bruce Tainio, who build the first frequency monitor, found that a higher vibration correlates to better health – a concept that has been accepted for thousands of years in Chinese medicine. The idea of supporting the body’s vibration has been around for thousands of years in Eastern medicine, although it is newer in the Western world. Some people misinterpret this concept of vibrational medicine as woo-woo or a religious concept. It is neither – this is purely biology, and a biology that we are learning more and more about as our measurement technology improves.
This point, to me, provides the most probable explanation for my intuitive transition to natural fiber clothing. As a highly sensitive person (a blessing and a curse!), my body has been very receptive to various types of vibrational medicine such as acupuncture. It makes sense that my body “asks” for the more natural vibration of natural fibers rather than synthetic fibers.
Where I’ve found natural fiber clothing
Fair Indigo – Fair Indigo calls their clothing “style with a conscious” for a good reason. They ethically source their materials, paying workers a living wage. They offer a wide selection of 100% organic cotton blouses (I like the Circle Neck Organic T-Shirt). Their gorgeous selection of scarves are a blend of cotton, wool and/or linen.
Alternative Apparel – Many of their items contain recycled synthetic materials, which I still choose to avoid. However, they have some 100% cotton and linen items that I’ve enjoyed. Some of their clothes are made with organic cotton and natural dyes. Everything I’ve got there has been from the Sale section, which usually has a wide selection. The 100% linen blouses that I purchased are amazing – lightweight, super soft and wrinkle-free!
Blue Canoe – Blue Canoe uses organic cotton and/or bamboo rayon for their pieces. I’ve not tried a wide range of their clothes, but I do like their 100% organic cotton bras and panties. Much of their clothing is made from bamboo rayon, which is highly processed with chemicals as I explained above. I only stick with their 100% cotton options.
Department stores – Although the fabric will likely not be organic, you’ll be able to find 100% cotton blouses at most department stores, as well as some 100% linen pieces. Another option that you can find in your favorite department store is pure cashmere or wool cardigans/sweaters.
Have you made the switch to natural fiber clothing? Is it something you want to try?