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Sustainable Alternatives to Toxic Fibres


These toxic fabrics are formally known as synthetic fabrics and are manmade and unnatural. They are created in the laboratory with a lethal amount of toxic chemicals. The chemicals that can be found in the manufacturing stage of synthetic dyes are the dominant cause for a number of health risks. Fabrics that require a high amount of chemicals to produce are the main reason for the great increase in chronic illness and the harmful issues affecting the environment in which we live in.

One of the many factors that allows for synthetic fabrics to be so popular are the chemicals that are used to dye the textile. The reason being for this is that these particular chemicals are found to hold shiny, wrinkle free, stain resistant and sweat resistant properties. But are these synthetic fabrics really worth the risk of serious health problems when they can cause toxic chemicals to penetrate into the skin?

Below is a complete break down of toxic fibres that are used in the production of garments and their sustainable alternatives.

Top three toxic fabrics:


Acrylic fabrics are synthetic polymers that are manufactured with a number of highly toxic substances. They are classified as plastic as the fibres are produced from plastic bottles and bags that are broken down to a yarn state and are then woven into fabric. According to the EPA, the harmful effects of acrylic fabrics are that they have been proven by laboratory studies to cause cancer. The fibres are also highly inflammable and are not very easy to recycle or biodegrade in the environment.


A Polyester fibre is one that is also made from synthetic polymers that are made from esters of dihydric alcohol and terpthalic acid. Both chemicals are highly toxic and harmful to your body, as the chemicals are not completely removed after the manufacturing process. Research has confirmed that the excessive wear of polyester fabrics can result in a range of health conditions such as skin cancer, chronic and severe respiratory infections. Polyester is also dangerous for the environment as it is hard to recycle and the production of the fibre itself disposes toxins in the water and emits pollutants in the air.


Rayon is a fibre that is produced from recycled wood pulp. When in production the fibre is treated with a range of chemicals that include acetone, carbon disulphide, ammonia, sulfuric acid and caustic soda. The chemicals are used for the fabric to survive regular washing and constant wear. The chemicals that are emitted from the Rayon fabric are highly toxic and can cause headaches, chest and muscle pain. Rayon is also hazardous to the environment as the chemicals that are disposed during its production affect the eco-system by polluting the water and decreasing the growth of plants.

natural irish linen niro wang

(Designers such as Niro Wang (designs above) incorporate natural fibres into their entire collection)


natural tencel hemp linenTop three sustainable alternatives:


Tencel is a natural, man-made fibre that can also be referred to as Lyocell. The fibre is made from wood pulp that is found in sustainable tree farms and is created using nanotechnology that decomposes all solvents and emissions. The production process for this fibre is non-toxic, completely biodegradable and the eucalyptus trees that are harvested for the fibre are grown on sustainable farms that require no toxic pesticides.


Hemp fabric is an ecological crop and is made from fibres in the herbaceous plant. Hemp is a high-yield crop that does not require the use of pesticides or toxic chemicals and produces more fibre per acre than either cotton or flax. The Hemp plant is low maintenance to grow, does not require supplemental irrigation, is produced organically and is also biodegradable.


Linen is created from fibres that are naturally grown as part of the flax plant. Flax fibres are one of the strongest vegetable fibres and are two to three times stronger than cotton. The flax plant is grown worldwide on marginal lands and its production is one that is sustainable. When the fibre is made into the linen fabric it is very breathable and is good for the skin. Linen is also biodegradable as it is created solely from natural material.

With such great advances in technology the fashion and textile industry should work together to innovate more sustainable alternatives in the production of fabrics, so that potential health and environmental hazards can be prevented. If you would like to reduce your toxic load and prevent any of the health problems mentioned above from occurring you should consider looking for organic fabrics when shopping for garments, as the natural fibres will not harm your body.

By Sabrina Shafi

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