Common Chemicals of Concern in Clothing

dyer with stained hands and fabric

Over 8,000 chemicals are used in the textile manufacturing industry. Many have health risks for workers, the environment, and even consumers. See below for a quick primer of some of the priority chemicals of concern as identified by activists and scientists. 

Chemical

Use

Health Risk

Polyflourinated Chemicals (PFCs)

Makes clothing waterproof and stainproof

PFCs can affect liver health and disrupt hormonal functions

Azo Dyes

One of the most common dyes used (~60%-70%)

Can releases aromatic amines, which is a carcinogen

Heavy Metals (Cadmium, lead, mercury)

Found in dyes and leather tanning

Can damage nervous system or kidneys; can be carcinogenic

Formaldehyde

Used to keep clothing wrinkle-free and shrink-free

Known respiratory irritant and carcinogen

Flame Retardants

Used to fireproof clothing, especially baby clothes

Can be hormonal disruptors