By TreeLiving Synthetic textiles and fibers are everywhere – in our clothing, bed linen and soft furnishings. Synthetics fabric has a number of superficial advantages. It’s often cheap, durable, quick drying and easy to care for. Unfortunately, that convenience comes at a price. Synthetic fabrics can be bad for us, as well as for the environment, and are worth avoiding in the green home that the ecologically minded among us aim for. Synthetic fabrics are made using a number of complex chemical processes and treatments. Polyester, nylon and similar fabrics are made from petroleum. Oil is a non-renewable resource, so it’s not eco-friendly to start with. The production process is energy intensive and potentially polluting. Their ecological impact aside, synthetic fabrics aren’t good for people who buy and wear them either. Synthetics can keep giving off small amounts of vapor (volatile organic compounds, or VOCs) for years – and washing won’t get rid of them. They might not bother most people, but some people are hypersensitive to it, and to the chemical dyes used in textiles. But the list of chemicals associated with synthetic fabrics doesn’t stop there. A number of extra chemical additives have come under the spotlight in recent years. Of particular concern is the addition of perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs). Teflon is one of them. They are used to make the fabric stain- and wear-resistant, as well as wrinkle free, cutting down on the ironing. A formaldehyde product is often used to prevent garments from shrinking and flammability. Flame retardants, often used in children’s clothes, are known to give off VOCs. Volatile chemicals are also used to make materials resistant to moths. The potential health problems that these chemicals are known to cause include allergies, with respiratory and skin problems, as well as immune system disruption and even hormonal imbalance. It should come as no surprise to hear that many of the chemicals used at every stage of synthetic fabric production may cause cancers. Polycrylonitriles, which are found in acrylic materials, are thought to be carcinogenic agents. You can conclude that, in spite of their user-friendliness, synthetic fabrics are bad news from start to finish. They may be hard to avoid altogether, but cutting down on them is something you may want to do in the interests of a green home and a healthier lifestyle. Remember too that synthetic fabrics may be cost effective because they are hard-wearing and have a long life, but when they’re past it they are remarkably slow to decay in landfill. Natural fibers are the logical alternative to synthetic fabrics. With the possible exception of wool, they are less likely to cause allergies and are not carcinogenic. They are fabrics that breathe. They may cost more and need a bit of extra care and attention, but natural fabrics (organic if possible) feel better, look great and are ideal for a green home and way of living.

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