The textile industry uses lots of chemicals to turn coarse fibers into the soft, lustrous, smooth, colorful fabrics we demand. Think of turning organic apples into applesauce: if you added Red Dye #2, preservatives, emulsifiers, stabilizers and other chemicals to the mix, the final product would not be organic applesauce. The same thing happens in textile manufacturing: organic fibers are washed, sized, desized, bleached, dyed, treated with detergents, optical brighteners, biocides, wetting agents, lubricants, sequestering agents, stabilizers, emulsifiers, complexing agents …and more. The American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists Buyers Guide for 2007 lists over 2000 chemicals used in textile manufacturing – many of which are known to bioaccumulate, persist in our environment and are associated with a host of human health issues, such as infertility, autoimmune diseases, cancers, nervous system disorders and many others1.
It takes from 10% to 100% of the weight of the fabric in chemical additives to produce the fabric to cover an average sofa2. And since one average size sofa uses about 25 yards of fabric, which weights about 1 lb. per yard on average, then the total weight of the fabric to cover a sofa would be 25 lbs., so from 2.5 to 25 pounds of chemicals were used to produce the fabric.
And the finished fabric, advertised as being made from 100% cotton, is actually made of 73% cotton fibers and 27% "other", such as, for example:
Studies are being published that specifically link diseases to chemicals found in textiles.4
The fabrics we live with contain chemicals which have been proven to affect us in many ways, from subtle to profound: in terms of infertility, asthma, nervous disorders (ranging from depression and anxiety to brain tumors), immune system suppression and genetic alteration. And the industry pollutes our groundwater by dumping untreated effluent into our waterways, where it circulates around the globe.
Is that a reason to want safe fabrics?
1See, for example: