Non-Toxic Back-to-School Clothes

Wrinkled and stained clothing might be the healthiest ticket for your kids’ back-to-school clothes. Fans of The Green Guide will be delighted that National Geographic has just published Green Guide: The Complete Reference for Consuming Wisely, and here is what the book has to say about fabric finishes:

Modern fabric finishes that are applied to fabrics to simplify their care–finishes that make them “Permanent Press,” “No Iron,” “Water Repellent,” and “Flame Retardant”–may actually cause more problems than they solve. Formaldehyde, a common indoor air pollutant found in permanent-press and some fire-retardant clothes and home textiles, is an upper respiratory irritant, sensitizer, and a carcinogen.

Perfluorochemicals (PFCs) are a class of chemicals found in Scotchgard, Stainmaster, Gore-Tex, and Teflon fabric coatings and sprays. Besides non-stick pans, furniture, cosmetics, household cleaners, and packaged food containers, clothing can also contain PFCs. They are often found in shoes and some clothing. A 2001 study by Scotchgard maker 3M found that PFCs showed up in the blood of 96 percent of the children tested, with some children showing levels 10 times as high as the average. The PFC variety found, PFOA, has been associated with testicular, prostate, and bladder cancers among workers. PFOS, another PFC compound, was removed from 3M’s Scotchgard in 2000 following pressure from the EPA over the chemical’s developmental and reproductive toxicity.

Also problematic are polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), used as fire retardants in some clothing items. Animal studies indicate that PBDEs disrupt thyroid hormone levels and harm the growth of developing brains. If fire safety is a concern, a far better option is to choose garments made with wool, which is naturally flame resistant.

Adapted from The Green Guide: The Complete Reference for Consuming Wisely, by the Editors of Green Guide Magazine (National Geographic, 2008).


Linda H.
Linda H9 years ago

It's too bad that kids can't start a fad for used clothes, so many are haveing to wear them now anyway. Then the most popular shops would be Goodwill, Salvation Army, and the DAV, It would help their parents and the environment.

Sally Harper
Sally Harper9 years ago

Of course you could always just buy your clothes from thrift stores - after they've been washed a few times and had the chemicals removed. It's always better for the environment to buy used than new anyway.