Are Your Casual Clothes Toxic?

What to look out for, and how to protect yourself. Action Alert!
A Greenpeace report has found that several major sportswear brands—including Adidas, Nike, and Puma—contain polyfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEs), and phthalates. All of these chemicals are linked to major health issues. PFCs, which make items stain-proof, are linked to problems like low birth weight and prostate cancer; phthalates are linked to attention deficit disorder, asthma, breast cancer, obesity, and behavioral and neurodevelopmental issues; and NPEs degrade into hormone-disrupting chemicals.
This was one of a series of reports looking at toxic chemicals in clothing. Another report investigated luxury children’s clothing from brands like Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, Giorgio Armani, and Louis Vuitton, and found similarly troubling results. Fifty-nine percent of the products tested positive for one or more hazardous chemicals.
The problem is widespread. Some in the industry have noted that “some type of chemical finish is applied to nearly every synthetic fabric” in order to boost performance. A recent news report found that that clothing produced in countries like China where health and safety violations routinely occur contain substances like lead, PFCs, NPEs, formaldehyde, and phthalates. A Swedish report also notes that chemical substances can also be found in clothing quite unintentionally as a byproduct of the manufacturing process, such as the formaldehyde that is released from certain reactive resins, and toxic metals that are present due to impurities in the raw material.
The Swedish report warns that these dangerous substances, which may cause severe health effects, should be avoided in articles with direct and prolonged skin contact. Workout clothing, for example, is designed to be form-fitting and to interact with the skin during periods of high-heat and friction, potentially increasing the exposure levels.
While it does not appear that the amount of toxic chemicals in this clothing causes acute problems in the short term, we don’t know what the effect of long-term exposure could be. And even if the levels of these dangerous substances are low, some people are more vulnerable than others, especially those with some common genetic polymorphisms, as we saw in our recent article about aluminum’s dangers, and children, since their immune systems are not fully developed.
Experts advise that consumers avoid clothing that is crease-free, moth-repellant, stain-resistant, or fire-retardant, as these properties are typically achieved by using the above-mentioned toxic chemicals. In workout clothes, screen-printing and plastic prints are an indication of the presence of phthalates. Natural and organic fabrics like silk, cotton, and wool are the safest choice, as they are naturally antimicrobial and antibacterial and good at thermal regulation.
This summer, we reported on two chemical bills moving through the Senate. One, the Vitter-Udall bill, was drafted by the chemical industry. The stronger Boxer-Markey chemical safety bill would take much-needed steps in regulating the thousands of chemicals that are currently on the market.
Action Alert! Write to your senators and urge them to support the Boxer-Markey bill and oppose the Vitter-Udall bill. Please send your message immediately.


  1. There is something i don’t understand. The skin is a marvelous protector of our bodies, serving as a shield that keeps all kinds of bad actors out. In fact, it even keeps good things out, like moisturizer and healthful salves and creams. There is research ongoing on how to make such creams etc. more easily absorbed by the skin. The factor of osmosis, by which substances will not go through a barrier without water or other liquid, plays a role. So, unless one wears a tight garment that is kept in a very wet state for hours on end, like a bathing suit one might wear in the pool for hours, just how do these chemicals in clothing harm us? Eventually, some of them wear off in multiple washings as well. Unless they produce noxious gases which the wearer breathes in, I’m not too worried about added chemicals in clothing.

    1. What about the workers making them? The environment around the factories? The landfills where they end up eventually? Regardless of whether the chemicals get into the skin or not, this kind of toxic manufacturing is not a desirable thing for short-sighted profit and/or convenience. Keep the whole picture in mind.

        1. Have you actually made your own? I haven’t used a sewing machine in about 20 years, so I am not sure how that would turn out…LOL. Kudos to you though for going that route. Personally, I would rather pay someone for their expertise in creating environmentally friendly clothing. Plus, once I do so, that creates incentive for them to make more and continue the trend…that’s the beauty of a free market, IF we harness it for forces of good.

    2. No c0mm0ncenz, you are mistaken and misled. The skin, the largest organ of our bodies, was created to act as a shield to keep water and dirt out, and our innards in, not a constant slurry of toxic chemicals we are exposed to today. However, the whole point of this article was to warn us about the toxic chemicals in clothing that can absorb through our skin, regardless of how tight such clothing may be. The whole clothing and cosmetic industry (except reputable certified organic companies), are manufacturing stuff that should never be put on or near our skin, and yet women (mostly) plaster themselves with these toxic substances every day.
      Of course the Industries are researching how to make their poisons more easily absorbed by the skin! That’s their ploy to make people eventually as sick as possible, and then their partners in greed, the Pharmaceutical Industry, will step in with equally toxic drugs to supposedly alleviate the symptoms, and then you end up in a vicious circle of ill health and reliance on drugs for the rest of your life. This article doesn’t even address the other partner in greed, the ‘Food’ Industry, with their processed foods and GMOs that are poisoning people on the inside too.
      Shun all these before it’s too late: Whenever possible wear Organic clothing, or at least cotton, wool, or other natural fibers; Organic lotions, even toothpaste (avoid the poison fluoride), and shampoo; eat organic food whenever possible: at least cut out processed food, and you will go a long way to better health.

    3. A couple years ago, I bought two casual shirts from China. Each time I wore them (over a tee-shirt), I would get a severe rash around my neck. That never happened with any of my 15-20 other shirts. I quickly got rid of them once I made the positive connection. Since then, I’ve stopped buying any clothes made in China. Now I know why it was happening (even though I suspected it then).

      1. I’ve found the same thing with clothes made in China. At the store yesterday buying jeans for my kids I was so frustrated because all the girl’s jeans were made in China. So we didn’t buy any. I’ll check a few more stores. May end up at the consignment shops or Goodwill. But I won’t buy clothes made in China.

        1. Unfortunately, don’t know where they’re still sold, but I used to be able to get clothes and socks made out of hemp. What a great resource. But on deeper questioning of the store clerk, I found out the clothes were made in China, then shipped to several other countries on the way to market. But I had no problem with the hemp fabrics- they were quality clothes and linens. Bamboo fabrics also show promise, but bamboo is mostly grown in China. Darn it’s hard to get away from Chinese products. Now we hear a Chinese firm may have bought the Ahava company. So much for their money problems.

        2. china sadly is becoming a toxic nightmare wasteland and so even thought who make products with pride still have no alternative to use polluted water as all manufacturing uses water in some stage

    4. You will note that many of the brand names listed are for sports gear, sweating makes the clothing wet, often for long periods of time. The chemicals in question remain in your body and build up over time causing major problems for you later in life and into the next generation as the messed up genes get passed forward to any children you have. Some of them may wash away in time, but some are made to remain with the garment through many washings.

  2. start with your sheets, get non toxic organic! then towels then go thru your wardrobe.
    also most vintage is not polluted that’s why so valuable.

  3. Natural fibers organically provide the safest, most sustainable textiles for the clothing we need, a big plus is that it lasts much longer then the typical commercial cotton yarns. buy quality, buy made in USA or European clothing/fabrics and know that there is no such thing as cheap clothes, cheap is actually more expensive when you factor in quality, length of use, environmental impact, impact on workers & customers etc.

    1. Organic is great, but unless the plant is processed the costly water-based way, chemicals are required to turn that cotton, hemp, bamboo etc. into fiber. What is needed is for the industry to perfect the natural processing method, to make it more available.

      1. You are wrong about cotton and hemp. Hemp can be processed the same way Flax (Linen) traditionally was and cotton is even easier to comb and spin up on a wheel or drop spindle. The issue is how time consuming the process is when done by hand. Bamboo DOES have to be processed with chemicals. I grow and spin my own cotton and also spin wool, alpaca and silk. The trouble with “natural” cotton for T-shirts is that the slightest amount of sweat will stain it. If you dye it, you’re back to chemicals either a chemical dye or a poisonous mordant used to set a “natural” dye such as pokeweed berries or tea.

      2. All true…and the technologies exist, at a doable cost when we are ready to make the shift…in the end it’s better, and we really don’t have a choice.

  4. Coincidentally, today I happened to make a phone call to Walmart headqtrs to report they research what chemical they’re adding to their Faded Glory 100% cotton t-shirts (“Genuine Tee” collection), b/c wearing one today resulted in a large skin irritation. It was first time I wore it (and this after washing it with fragrance free detergent which I do before wearing anything). I know it was the shirt b/c after I changed out of it, the irritation started to quickly subside. The shirt was made in Nicaragua, so who knows what they’re using over there. Thanks for posting the article. Keep up the great work. By the way, for some reason, I keep getting 2 emails (duplicates) for every newsletter you put out. Pls correct this. Thank you.

    1. Remember that Cotton is a GMO Round Up Ready plant. Cotton that is 100% cotton is different than 100% Organic Cotton. You are probably having problems with not only the chemicals which are being sprayed on the clothing, you are probably having a reaction to the ingredient glyphosate which is the poison in Round Up that kills the weeds. I would still insist on Walmart Headquarters to come up with some answer for me or to give me a full refund even without a receipt. Good Luck!!!

  5. Something to keep in mind about buying China and cashmere. No regulation prohibits China from using fine wool in place of cashmere, calling wool cashmere, and selling wool at the price of cashmere. Discount giants sell a great deal of clothing that carries these chemicals and misleads consumers to actually pay more for less quality. It may be time to go back to making your own clothes again and stop trying to out fashion each other. Buying material is easier than buying manufactured clothes.

    1. yeah, but it isn’t any cheaper these days and you still have the problem of the synthetic cloth. there isn’t much in the way of 100% natural fibers out there these days, its hard to find and expensive where ever you find it.

      1. Very true– it can be hard to find good choices in fabrics, and homemade clothes can easily cost more than store-bought.

  6. …for any questions about DENYING that the skin will absorb contaminants, and/or drugs via subcutaneous absorption…or as perhaps a PATCH ?, is ridiculous. Nerve Gas, for another proponent of evidence, works very effectively…only has to reach unprotected skin. Done deal.

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