The truth about synthetic vs. natural fabrics – bamboo is sneaky!

I used to love watching Mr. Rogers shows about how crayons, macaroni, and erasers are made – those episodes are classic!  — but there are so many things and manufacturing processes I wonder about.  Are these processes creating safe products?  Who is regulating, checking, and enforcing the safety?  Who is deciding what IS safe?

Our clothing, uniforms, mattresses, bedding, furniture, and baby products (such as carriers/car seats) are poisoning us, due to both the material/process from which they are made.

Killer Clothes is an excellent book that lists 100% cotton clothing.  My recommended brands can be found at the bottom of this post.  Here is a podcast from that discusses this topic as well.

Flame retardants are also found in home insulation foam (polystyrene, polyurethane, polyiso), as well as electronics, although the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) electronics standards already prevent internal ignition…but those home products are subjects for another post!

  1. The large majority of cotton textiles are made from GMO-grown cotton, and since these clothes are not organic (GMO is not allowed in the organic growing process), chlorine-family chemicals are added during the processing of the fiber, and residual chemicals are left on the clothes.  You can get these chlorine chemicals out.
  2. Synthetic fibers such as rayon, which are made from petroleum, are spun in such a way that they need to add toxic chemicals to make that process work.  Bamboo fabric sounds great, but even though the source material is bamboo pulp instead of petroleum, the fibers are spun in the same way as rayon, and the same toxic chemicals are added in the process.  The same applies to other ‘eco’ fabrics made from biomass sources, such as viscose, modal, lyocell, etc (from cellulose pulp).
  3. Flame retardants are used to impregnate these fabrics.  Some 100% cotton clothes are free of the very toxic bromide chemicals that you CAN’T wash out.
  4. Stain and water repellants are applied.


What is the risk?

Stain/Water Repellants

Highly fluorinated chemicals (PFASs)


Flame Retardents

Health risks

Studies have shown that it takes women longer to get pregnant when these chemicals are in their bodies (Eskanazi et al, 2010, 2011, 2012).  The same studies show effects in the babies born: lower birth weight, impaired attention, poorer coordination, and lowered IQ.

These chemicals are mutagens, carcinogens, obesegens, immune suppressants, endocrine disruptors, to name a FEW.

The endless iterations and ‘regrettable substitutions of this chemical include: Brominated Tris, PEntaBDE, Chlorinated Tris, Firemaster 550, ad phosphates.

There are no regulations or laws that require manufacturers to disclose when they are using these chemicals, and they are impossible to ‘wash out.’  So washing baby clothes before you put them on your baby for the first time is not going to solve this problem.  These toxic chemicals are obesegens (cause us to put on weight!), as well as interfering with our neurological development, and our hormones, and basically everything in our body!

Although the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) issued a guidance in the Federal Registry recommending that consumers, especially pregnant mothers and young children, obtain assurances from retailers products don’t contain the chemicals, and although they also recommended that manufacturers eliminate the use of these chemicals, this is not going to fix this issue. (September 28, 2017).

If you call the manufacturer, the person you’re speaking with is going to have no idea what you’re talking about.

Then, they will get back to you after talking with a manger and assure you that they don’t use those products.  They could be lying, misinformed, or not even understand your question accurately, because so few people actually know what’s going, or in worst cases, don’t care.

You spend at least 8 hours ever night with your face and skin next to your sheets and mattress.  You inhale and absorb poisonous (toxic) substances which are impregnated into mattresses and synthetic sheets (including bamboo and cellulose sheets).  You then transmit them through the placenta to your fetus.

The same applies to clothing or baby carriers/car seats or furniture.

Flame retardants are persistent, and move from our furniture and electronics, into our air and house dust, and into our bodies, and some of it is excreted, and even persists and survives through sewage treatment, which is then often turned into biosolids and applied as fertilizer!  Read this article to learn more about this featuring the work of Rolf Halden, professor at Arizona State University, adjunct faculty at John Hopkins, and an expert on the environmental impacts of industrial chemicals.


Ways that these Chemicals Get Into Our Bodies

  • Absorption through Skin
  • Inhalation – through off-gassing
  • Inhalation – through fine particulates that fall of into the dust of our homes
  • Consumption/hand-to-mouth – from the dust in our home

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Risk of Fire?

Our policymakers haven’t protected us from flame retardant chemicals, despite the fact that they are not effective.

Flame retardant impregnated foam will only delay a fire from burning the item in question for 12 seconds.

Flame retardants don’t provide any meaningful benefit when there is a house fire, and in fact, makes everything worse and more dangerous, as shown in this article feature  combustion scientist, Donald Lucas.



Materials Where we Find Toxic Chemicals

  • Clothing
  • Sheets/Blankets
  • the fabric that encloses the mattress/holds it together
  • Furniture upholstery
  • fabric on baby carriers, car seats, etc
  • Carpet “fibers” / pile

Two Points where chemicals are Added

  • Thread – extrusion & spinning
  • Fabric/Upholstery
  • Foam (read this post for more information on foam)
  • Stain/water repellants (Highly fluorinated chemicals (PFASs))


Let’s break this down further.



The threads and fabrics are also impregnated with another class of chemicals, used to extrude non fibrous substances (petroleum, bamboo or tree pulp) into fibers/threads.  These fabrics include polyester, spandex, and other synthetic man-made fibers.  But they also include ‘eco’ fabrics such as bamboo, viscose, lyocell (cellulose pulp), etc.

Mattresses, baby clothes, baby products or carriers, car sets, and potentially bedding and all textiles and clothing in general, are impregnated with flame retardant bromide chemicals.


How Do You Know if your Fabrics & Foam Furniture Are Safe?

Chemicals used in thread extrusion and spinning process

Unless your textiles/fabrics are made with 100% true natural fiber, they are impregnated with chemicals used in the thread extrusion process.  Here are the true natural fibers.  Note, bamboo, viscose, lyocell, and other biomass pulp fabrics are NOT true natural fibers!

  • cotton
  • linen
  • wool
  • hemp
  • linen (from flax)
  • stinging nettle


Flame Retardants

Unless your textiles/fabrics are certified organic, it is possible and likely that the manufacturer has also applied flame retardant chemicals, which we just discussed.


Where Can I Get Safe Products?

We need to choose only organic, true natural fiber textiles, as our budget allows over time.  It’s hard to choose what you should start with – bedding, mattress, or clothing.


Transition Prioritization

Here’s a list of how you might prioritize the transition, based on how much time you spend next to/in each item.

  1. Sheets
  2. Blankets
  3. Mattress
  4. Clothing
  5. Baby products, such as carriers/ car seats
  6. Furniture
  7. Curtains




3 thoughts on “The truth about synthetic vs. natural fabrics – bamboo is sneaky!

  1. Ban poisons. Put money into healthy growing practices use people skills to change growing industry change stock market to support only healthy growing practices watch it take off it will get rid stupid people out of government get rid of crooks start with government


    1. Sandra, you are so right. There is an amazing movement in California regarding natural fiber started by one woman named Rebecca. It has taken many years and lots of work! So much dedication is needed. Also, as we move to natural fabrics we have to change how we’re living. For example, as I bought more 100% cotton garments, I realized that they shrink every time a little bit in the dryer. If you live in a small apartment it can be impossible to line dry within your tiny apartment…no clotheslines outside and still in urban environments people steal off clothesline (had a comforter stolen last summer!). We need everyone to work together…landlords needs to provide clothesline solutions, for both summer (outside) and inside (for winter)…we need to figure out how to do this inside in winter and make sure we’re removing humidity enough, etc. There are so many things that need to change.


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