January 05, 2024 4 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:
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.
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.
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, there may be stain proofing built into the fiber, or a coating added to the rug by the rug manufacturer or an after purchase option to add stain proofing to your rug. The logic is that stain proofing will allow you to play, eat and drink on treated rugs without a worry. However, if the textiles in your home are treated with hash chemicals, there may be a possibility that these chemicals will release unhealthy compounds into the air, polluting it.
Continuously breathing poor quality air may result in several major health problems. Check out our resources below to read more about the link between PFAS and your health.
You also want to avoid chemically treated fabrics. “There is an inseparable link between chemicals and carbon,” says Leila Behjat.
Flame retardants, water repellents, PFAS and PVC are also all known to be harmful to human health, and even when you’re using a plant-based fabric, if it has been chemically treated for stain resistance, “the natural-based product disappears into the background, and the chemicals are in the forefront because that’s what we are going to touch,” says Behjat.
Some cities, countries and companies have started banning products made with PFAS. Unfortunately, it is up to consumers to research which products are free of harmful chemicals.
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. GOTS also ensures fair trade and no child labor.
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.
An Organic Rugis made according to the strict protocol established by GOTS:
Choosing organic and non-toxic products for your home is better for your health and for the environment. Look for products that have third party certifications and natural fibers like wool and cotton, to ensure that you are not adding any unnecessary harmful chemicals to our living environment.
Business of Home: 10 Reasons to Natural Fiber Textiles your Go-To Fabrics by Laura Fenton
If you want to learn more about PFAS, follow these links from Consumer Notice:
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