Dangers of Performance Fabrics

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

What is a Performance Fabric?

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 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.

What are PFAS & what are the DANGERS OF PFAS?

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 a group of synthetic chemicals that have become ever-present in our daily lives. They can be found in numerous household and cleaning products, non-stick cookware, and water-resistant fabrics such as rain jackets and tents. They can also be found in personal care products like nail polish, shampoo, and makeup. These invisible toxins have been linked to several health issues, including cancer, thyroid disease, immune system dysfunction, and developmental issues in children."

Consumer Notice

PFAS in fabrics + Rugs

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.

Leila Behjat is an architect and senior researcher at Parsons School of Design’s Healthy Materials Lab, and is quoted by Laura Fenton in Business of Home here:

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.

HOW do I reduce my exposure to pfas?

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.

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.

What is a GOTS Certified Organic Rug?

An Organic Rugis made according to the strict protocol established by GOTS:

  • Raw materials are from traceable, certified organic producers.
  • Cleaning or scouring raw materials uses biodegradable cleansing agents.
  • Water is used in a sustainable way throughout processing.
  • No synthetic agents or oils are used in spinning process.
  • Yarn is dyed using Global Organic Textile Standard approved dye stuffs.
  • Farmers and Fabricators are treated fairly.
  • Rugs are finished with no harmful chemicals or detergents.

Organic Weave Weaver
Organic Weave
antamony of a non toxic rug
Organic Weave

Think Before You Buy!

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. 

Linda Alexanian Image

The Author: Linda Alexanian

Linda is the Founder of Organic Weave. As a third generation rug merchant, Linda is passionate about the art of making handmade rugs with all natural materials.


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