When you shop for produce, you might be more likely to pick up the bag of organic apples versus the conventionally grown apples. Why is that? Chances are, if you are purchasing organic food, you’ve been asked by family and friends why you bother with the extra expense of buying organic, and chances are, you probably have an answer.
You tell them, “because I don’t want my family to eat food that’s been treated with chemicals”. But, have you ever wondered what chemicals go into making those adorable onesies that fill your baby’s drawers? Sometimes we focus so much on what goes into our children’s bodies that we completely forget that what goes on them is just as important. Read on to find out more about the dirty truth behind children’s clothing!
Cotton is harmless right?
Wrong! Although cotton may seem pure (the cotton balls we use for our makeup are always so fluffy and white!), it’s actually known as the world’s “dirtiest crop” because of the large amount of chemicals that go into preparing the cotton crop for use. You know those super-soft baby blankets that we’ve all rubbed on our faces while secretly wishing someone would make them for adults? Well, they’ve actually gone through quite the disturbing process. The pesticides in cotton textile production alone can cause major damage to the environment, to aquatic life that has been poisoned by chemical runoff, and to the human race itself.
Let’s take a little tour through the production of textiles. We’re going to focus on clothing that has been made using techniques that are typical of conventional cotton growing. While the cotton is still being grown, those nasty pesticides make their grand entrance. Insecticides are used to keep bugs at bay and fungicides are used to protect the crop from disease. These chemicals, which are applied by spraying in large quantities, have been linked to cancer. The excess spray runs off into our water supply and travels through the air to nearby residences. The residents surrounding farms that produce substantial amounts of conventional cotton have been proven to be highly susceptible to developing multiple types of cancers. And can you imagine the amount of chemicals the farmers themselves are being exposed to? The majority of the world’s cotton is being produced in developing countries where the farmers lack the training and education they need to protect themselves from these hazardous chemicals, so they put themselves at risk every time they go to work.
When the crop is ready for harvesting, herbicides are applied to make the job easier, polluting the soil even further. Then, as it goes through the manufacturing process, the cotton is exposed to a new host of chemicals. Heavy metals, such as alkali, are used to control the sizing of the product. Sodium hypochlorite is used to make whites really white. If the clothing is going to be a certain color, the cotton then literally takes a bath in synthetic dyes during the coloration stage. The dyes make another cameo during the printing stage and then it’s on to the finishing.
During the finishing process, more chemicals are applied to achieve the desired end product. Formaldehyde, which has been linked to cancer as well as skin conditions, is used to create a wrinkle-free product. Brominated fire retardants are often added to children’s nightclothes and have been linked to thyroid hormone disruption. Other chemicals are added to make the material resistant to stains, odors, wrinkles and static.
Yes, all of this is very gross and you’re probably thinking that your entire family should move to the wild and forget about the whole clothing endeavor. But, before you go all Adam and Eve and start sewing fig leaves together, maybe you should check into organic baby clothing. Organic cotton processing looks a lot different than its conventional counterpart. All of the results that chemicals achieve are achieved through natural, sustainable techniques that are safe for the environment and safe for people and animals. Not only can you feel good about putting organic clothing on your child knowing that there’s nothing in the material that would harm him, you can also be confident that you’re supporting a great cause by buying a product that promotes growing cotton with integrity. And the clothes are just as comfy and adorable!
Conventional cotton production is a booming business that takes a multitude of unethical issues and hides them behind a soft and pretty veil. But, we as consumers can educate ourselves and decide to do what’s right for the environment and for our children. The more we know about the hidden dangers that lurk behind the clothing we see all around us, the more equipped we’ll be to make the best choices for our families.