Question from P. G.
I have all three of your books, and thoroughly enjoy your newsletters! Thank you for all you do, and for sharing it all with us out here!
I am very committed to a healthy environment–organic beds, bedding, carpet, foods–just about everything. I spend a lot of money for it. However, for my clothing, I do purchase natural fiber cotton, linen, and silk clothing, but I don’t buy it organically. And there is my dilemma. I am aware of all the pesticide use on growing cotton, but does that residue REALLY end up transferring to our bodies when we wear it as clothing? Has any conclusive study or proof of this been made?
I understand the need to pre-wash new clothing of the residues from sizing and any other “new” fabric treatments before wearing (I wash my clothes with Whole Foods brand laundry detergent along with baking soda, and use vinegar in the rinse cycle), and appreciated your advice on avoiding non-wrinkle, stain-resistant clothing (which I now do–thanks!), but haven’t completely resolved this organic cotton clothing issue.
I ordered some swatches of organic fabrics to purchase to sew (I used to sew all my clothes) and may consider that. The prices of the fabric are very reasonable. But then I just wonder: is it really a valid concern????
I’ve already partially answered this question in Q&A: Conventional vs Organic Cotton Clothing, but I wanted to specifically answer the question “Has any conclusive study or proof of this been made?”
My experience wearing non-organic cotton clothing is that I don’t feel any residues of pesticides present. But that’s not a scientific test.
So I asked Home Environmental Consultant and Certified Bau-Biologist Mary Cordaro to comment on this, because she has experience with product testing done by laboratories in Germany that are far more sophisticated than the laboratories we have available here in the USA. Mary said, “German fabric tests on conventional cotton fabric have shown that, unlike cotton batting, pesticides are not usually present in cotton fabric. The fabric milling and production process removes the pesticides.”
I’m not concerned about health effects from pesticide residues in cotton fabrics (though they are present in cotton batting, so it would be important to get organic cotton in a mattress or pillows). We all should be concerned about the pesticides from the growing of cotton making their way into the environment (which then come back to us in soil, air, and water). But as I said before, at this time there just isn’t enough organic cotton for all of us to wear it 100% of the time. At the same time, we should each take every opportunity available to us to purchase organic cotton to support the continued growth of the industry.
I appreciate your practicality when talking about cotton. For instance, I am trying to find an organic cotton bedspread which is proving nearly impossible. Can you give me any advice on how to avoid stain resistant and permanent press finishes of conventional cotton? Are there other buzz words we should look for if the manufacturer doesn’t advertise those 2 specific features? I am suspicious of the 100% cotton bedspread I just bought because it had a strong odor before I washed it, came from China, and says No Iron on the tag. 🙁 Thank you for everything you do.
I’m suspicious too. Cotton refers only to the fiber and all kinds of finishes can be added without having to put them on the label.
Even organic cotton can have toxic finishes and still be labeled organic cotton because “organic” refers to the fibers.
So use your nose and common sense. If it doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t.
Also look for quality brands like Coyuchi. These brands are more expensive, but higher quality and more trustworthy.
Hi, the problem I have is that pesticides used in our community get tracked into places I go like the public library or I may contact then due to aerial drift or unwittingly sitting by a building whose perimeter has been sprayed. In these actual cases the clothing I was wearing became contaminated with some organophosphate pesticides that don’t easily breakdown in the environment, hence neither did they in my clothing. I tried washing them in a load with other clothes but al that happened was that the water and agitation activated the fresh pesticide and transferred it to the uncontaminated clothing. After the load was dry I wore the clothes and they began to outgas the pesticide due I guess from my body heat. I imagine that is what they are designed to do in order to kill the bugs. So basically, even if I was wearing organically grown fabric in now matters not since my clothes have become pesticide bombs in their own rite. Being quite chemically sensitive I must be absorbing this out gassing since wearing those clothes makes me quite ill, headache, nausea, dizzy, disoriented, etc. I pay a lot to buy natural fiber clothing and it isn’t easy to replace them financially, yet I can find no effective way to detox the pesticides they have absorbed. The pesticides seem to have worked their way into the structure of the fibers and continue to out gas even after multiple washings, airings or detoxing efforts. I have been left with no other option than tossing them in the trash to save my health. I don’t know if you have the kind of extreme sensitivity I do but if you know of any possible solutions I would be glad to try them. Thank you for your time, Valerie Vickland
I don’t offhand know what to tell you to do, but I will say that once I told a client to contact the manufacturer of a pesticide that needed to be removed and ask how to remove it. She did this and followed the instructions they gave her and she was able to then live in her house where the pesticide had bee sprayed.
So my suggestion to you would you to contact manufacturered of organophosphate pesticides (or the exact manufacturer if you know it) and ask them what to do. They DO have this information on hand.
There is also a lot of information online about the cleanup of organophosphate pesticide spills, but you might need more specifics than are given about releasing the pesticides from fabrics.
Please write and tell us what you learned, as this might be helpful to others.
When you say cotton batting still has pesticide residue, doe’s this include store bought quilts that say 100% cotton shell, and 80% cotton fiberfill, 20% polyester fiberfill? Would this store bought quilt still have pesticide residue? If so, can washing it in the washING machine at home be sufficient?
Yes that’s exactly what I mean. I don’t know if you can wash out pesticide residues or not. It would depend on the chemical characteristics of the pesticide, and the actual individual pesticides are unknown.
Here are some facts about cotton: RODALE INSTITUTE: Chemical Cotton.
One pesticide mentioned is Aldicarb.
I’ve been told there are studies from Germany that show that pesticides “wash out” of cotton during the process of turning cotton fiber into cloth. And so there is little direct danger to the wearer of cotton. I personally can wear cotton clothing if it doesn’t have a permanent press finish, but some people who are very sensitive can’t.
Cotton is not a perfect fiber. Organic cotton is a much preferred in the overall scheme of life, but it’s not yet widely available enough for it to be the standard choice for everyone. I recommend cotton because it’s generally not harmful to the end user and it’s better than synthetic fibers, but it’s not perfect because of the environmental effects.
We don’t live in a perfect world. We’re moving in a direction of becoming less toxic.
Since I can’t find any data about washing out Aldicarb, I’d say you may be able to wash it out, since it apparently comes out in industrial processing.