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The Toxic Truth About What’s in Your Child’s Clothing (And Easy Things You Can Do About it)

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My kids have never worn ‘pajamas‘. Let me tell you why.

Even the most ‘toxic‘ free households these days are are not free from unexplained rashes, irritability, sensitivity, allergies and worse. Everyone talks about the importance of kids eating organic food, free from toxins, but, did you know that toxins are actually more readily absorbed through the skin than through the digestive system? Yup, that’s right. So, whatever we put on the skin, (ahem, like clothing) could be affecting our children in ways we can’t even imagine!

Young children are especially sensitive to environmental toxins, and yet, probably every article of clothing you put on them, has been manufactured by using some crazy toxic recipe (unless of course, you blessed and sheered your own sheep out in the paddock, spun your own wool, and knitted a full bodied onsie). Everything in this article applies to adults too, but I’m focusing on kids because their systems are far more sensitive than most adult’s bodies.

Chemical Cocktail Used to Prepare and Make Fabric For Clothing
You could write an entire book on the textile industry and how screwed up it is. Basically, you’ve got two types of fabrics; natural and synthetic. Natural fibers come from plants or animals and can be cotton, wool, hemp, bamboo or animal hair. Synthetic fibres, such as nylon and polyester are made from petrochemicals (petroleum products, in other words, think oil drilling and plastic). Unless the clothes you buy are 100% certified organic, you’re pretty much guaranteed that somewhere along the production way, those clothes have been in contact with a toxic slurry of chemicals to get them ready for the shelf.

To make fabric, first a fibre has be grown or harvested, then it needs to be spun, then it undergoes several chemical processes called, sizing, scouring, bleaching, dying (for whites and some other colors, they use optical brighteners), and finishing. THEN, it’s finally ready to be sewn into a garment. Non-organic cotton uses more pesticides and fungicides, to grow, than almost any other crop in the world. Those toxins are still present in the clothing that you put on your child’s body. Then the treatment of the fabric, here is a toxic list of ‘some‘ of the chemicals used to treat and dye fabric so that it can be ready for the shelves in a store near you:

  • Formaldehyde (a known carcinogen)
  • Brominated Flame Retardands (a known carcinogen)
  • Heavy Metals for dying (more known carcinogens)
  • Dioxins (a known carcinogen)
  • Strong acids and strong bases (irritates the skin)

Although these chemicals are supposedly washed away, there’s no real way to tell how sound the manufacturing process is. Almost all textiles these days are made overseas in places like China, India and Bangladesh, where regulations and safety precautions may or may not be strictly followed. Textile workers often get extremely ill because of the poisons they use for preparing fabrics. Sounds lovely, doesn’t it (said no one ever).

Laws About Children’s Sleepwear
Children’s sleepwear is what really concerns me. Each country’s standards will vary, but in general, children’s sleepware has to meet government safety guidelines… and this is a good thing, sort of (um hello, who wants their child’s clothing to catch on fire). But, did you know that children’s pajamas, between the sizes of 9 months to size 14, are most often treated with flame retardants to give them a ‘Low Fire Danger‘ status. In order to give them that ‘Low Fire Danger‘ tick of approval, fabric has to be exposed to an open flame for several seconds before catching fire. If the fabric catches fire a little more easily, then it’s given the ‘High Fire Danger‘ label. If the fabric catches fire too easily, it can’t even be sold for children’s sleepwear.

What Does “Low Fire Danger” Really Mean
 There are few reasons why your child’s clothing may be ‘Low Fire Danger‘:

  • The fabric is synthetic, like polyester, (which is a petrochemical anyway) and has then been doused with brominated flame retardants (considered to be carcinogenic)–TOXIC HEAVEN!
  • The fabric is a natural fibre, like cotton and may or may not have been treated with brominated flame retardants (there’s no way to know, since the bastards are not required to label!!!!)
  • The fabric is snug fitted and made from a tight weave fabric  and again, may or may not have been treated with flame retardants (loose weave fabric tends to burn more easily).
  • The fabric is made from naturally fire resistant fibres, like wool, animal hair or silk.

Can you see why my kids have never worn purpose made pajamas! You just don’t know what is in those pajamas!

What Can You Do to Make A Child’s Wardrobe Less Toxic?

  • Buy certified organic cotton, if you can afford it…
  • Buy or accept pre-loved clothing from friends or second hand shops (the more the fabric is washed, the less toxins the fabric will retain).
  • Use regular day clothes for you child’s pajamas, of course, being sure that they’re fitting snug for the little babies.
  • Making your own clothes sounds like a good alternative, but the fabric you buy in the stores is sometimes treated even more heavily than pre-made clothes, because the fabric needs to be able to stay on the shelves a long time without growing mold. Although making your own clothes is really cool and I love it, so wash, wash, wash, wash if you’re concerned (I boil too), or see if you can buy organic fabric.
  • If you buy something that you suspect is toxic (like it smells bad), wash it, wash it, wash it, the more you wash it, the more the toxins will be removed. I’ve actually boiled and scoured my own clothes, hoping it would help to remove the toxins faster. Flame retardants are supposed to last 50 washes! Also, dirt, crazy germs and even fecal matter have been found on unwashed store bought clothes. So, wash up!
  • Buy natural fabrics, like 100% cotton. Natural fabrics tend to have less chemicals used in production.
  • Remember that nappies (diapers), especially disposables are laden with chemicals and those are against a baby’s skin day in and day out. If you can, buy the unbleached, natural ones, or use cloth. If you can’t afford it all the time, maybe alternate and buy the natural ones every other pack, or use a combination of cloth and disposables to give your baby’s skin a break from accumulating too many toxins.
  • Avoid buying baby and kid’s pajamas and those fleecy onsies. These articles of clothing fall under different safety regulations and are often the ones treated with the flame retardants! FREAKING FLAME RETARDANTS?! WHAT THE HELL? If you’re worried because you want that ‘Low Fire Danger‘ status, you can keep your kids away from flames. Co-sleep or room share and don’t smoke in bed. Don’t use open flames, like a candles. I mean, really, if your kid is in the room with you and you’re not using an open flame, the chances of them catching fire without you knowing it will be far far less.
  • Let your clothes line dry. Literally, air them out. The sun will also help the toxins to break down faster.

Hopefully you’re not too scared by now. Each and every toxin we can remove from our homes and from our little one’s systems is a good thing.  Hopefully this post gave you a little insight on how to reduce the toxicity from your child’s life!




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