January 23, 2023 2 min read
"Americans want their fabrics to behave - at the expense of polar bears, orca whales, clean air, clean water, chemical toxicity, climate change, and our family's own health and safety."
- Patty Grossman of Two Sisters Ecotextiles quoted in Architectural Digest
Many rugs and fabrics on the market are labeled "HIGH PERFORMANCE".
What exactly is a high performance textile?
Typically, to qualify as "performance" (think: suitable for a kids, pets, high traffic areas), a textile will be tested for:
1. Durability (how it performs after being subjected to abrasion testing)
2. Resistance to stains, water, mold and fading
Water-resistant, stain-proof… these labels definitely seem attractive, but have you thought about how a product is made this way? Many clothing and fabrics claiming to be ‘resistant’ are treated with PFAS, a group of chemicals that lead to harmful health issues, such as cancer, organ damage, and cholesterol increase.
Known as ‘forever chemicals’, PFAS (Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances) are synthetic chemicals that do not break down easily, they can stay in our bodies for a very long time (hence the ‘forever’). These chemicals are present in all sorts of products that we use on a daily basis: fabrics, clothing, non-stick cookware, water, cosmetics, and much more.
Numerous health problems are linked with the use and consumption of PFAS. Research studies show that PFAS can cause reproductive and developmental difficulties, liver and kidney problems, as well as interference with the body’s natural hormones. Other concerns include an increased risk of some cancers, including prostate, kidney, and testicular cancers, and a reduced ability of the body’s immune system to fight infections, including reduced vaccine response. (1)
PFAS are widely used in the textile industry because they allow textiles to repel water, oil, and dirt. They also increase thermal resistance and breathability. (2) These advantages appeal to consumers. The choice of a performance fabric over a non-treated one is obvious, even though it might cost more. For rugs, many companies offer stain proofing. Children and adults can play, eat and drink on treated rugs without a worry. However, with the presence of these treated textiles in your house, the chemicals may release unhealthy compounds into the air, polluting it. Continuously breathing poor quality air may result in several major health problems.
Some cities and companies have started banning products made with PFAS. Certifications exist to endure that you are buying non-toxic products.
For textiles, you can look for GOTS and OEKO-TEX certifications. GOTS not only sets standards for the materials but also for social and environmental aspects. The organization ensures fair trade and no child labor.
Two things determine if a textile is "high performance" - the weave and the composition.
For durability, look for a tightly woven fabric/rug.
For composition, stick to wool, which is natural stain and soil resistant, and consider a certification to verify that your textile was made without harsh chemicals.
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