June 02, 2017 3 min read

From the moment they are born, we wrap and dress our babies in fabrics - from their first blanket, to their cute outfits and the sheets on their beds. They're constantly surrounded by fabrics and they can't escape them. 

We all know how sensitive our babies' skins are, so you'd think that buying super-soft, easy to wash and flame retardant garments will keep their skin protected in pure and soft surroundings.

The reality is a lot of fabrics commonly used in garments may be harmful to your baby's skin, even in small doses. 

Children and babies especially, are susceptible to these chemicals because they are growing and their cells are rapidly multiplying. Once these chemicals and toxins enter their little bodies, they get stored in the fatty tissue. Detoxing these chemicals can be especially hard and sometimes damage is irreversible.

Did you know? In many countries (like NZ and Australia), it is the law to label baby sleepwear with how flame retardant they are. Many companies add chemicals to their fabrics to gain this flame retardant quality (something that comes naturally in merino).

The true cost of convenience

Let's do an experiment: go to your closet (or your baby's) and pick out 5 random items of clothing. Now, look at the labels. Most likely, unless you are 100% committed to sourcing every single item from speciality clothing retailers, more than half of those items will list materials like rayon, polyester, acrylic and nylon.

While the words might not seem like much, these materials are all treated with chemicals such as formaldehyde resins (to make clothes wrinkle and fire resistant), dyes, Para-phenylenediamine and flame retardants (tris [2,3-dibromopropyl] phosphate [13] and 2,3-dibromocresylglycidyl ether), which can cause severe allergic skin reactions. 

These fabrics are meant to make our lives simpler (who doesn't want to skip this week's ironing or avoid any shrinking when washing), but if that comes at the cost of our health, is it worth it?

merino wool baby clothes

We've collected a list of fabrics you often see in baby clothing but are chemically-treated and best avoided:

1. Polyester is made from petrochemicals and at the top of the list. This fabric is a very popular choice in clothing manufacturing, as it is cheap and has wrinkle-free properties. But the negative impacts on your skin (due to the chemically-loaded manufacturing process) and the environment (more than 70 billion barrels of oil are used to make polyester every year) make it one of the worst fabrics you can buy. 

2. Acrylic fabrics are very popular for baby clothing. The look is similar to knitted wool but a lot cheaper and a lot less comfortable to actually wear, but you can't tell when you see it hanging beautifully (and cheap) in the shop. Acrylics are manufactured using a combination of toxic substances and has even been linked to causing cancer

3. Rayon(like Bamoo) is manufactured from recycled wood pulp or bamboo cellulose processed by a combination of chemicals, including carbon disulphide, sulfuric acid, ammonia, acetone and caustic soda. The carbon disulphide emitted from rayon fabric can pose a number of severe health risks. 

4. Acetate and Triacetate are manufactured using wood fibers (cellulose) and involve extensive chemical processing, leading to severe skin allergies and rashes or shortness of breath. 

5. Nylon is petroleum-based and undergoes chemical treatments during the manufacturing process. Apart from being known as one of the least eco-friendly fabrics, nylon is also linked to skin allergies, dizziness and headaches. 

6. Anything static-resistant, stain-resistant, permanent press, wrinkle-free, stain-proof, flame retardant or moth-repellent,is worth staying clear of as these fabrics are often treated with extremely harmful chemicals to achieve these benefits, such as Teflon.  

Did you know: merino fibres are naturally less inclined to wrinkle, anti-static and fire retardant?

merino wool

So what can you do?

The best way to ensure that your baby's clothes don't affect their health, is to buy organic or otherwise certified safe fabrics. In last week's blog, we shared some insights on choosing the right organic clothes. Read more about that here.

While organic, high-quality clothes may seem expensive at first, their quality will most likely exceed that of synthetic clothing and you'll find that your baby's clothes last almost twice (even three times) as long. 

You can take organic one step further by also opting to buy eco-friendly, or natural, laundry detergents and softeners, but the first and most important step you can take is protecting your baby's skin (and health) with natural, organic products and garments. 

Do you have any favourite organic products? Feel free to share them in the comments below.


Note: we have not touched on the effect these chemicals have on the real people at the factories involved in manufacturing the clothing we talk about above. It's a big subject and one worth keeping in mind when buying your clothing too.