7 Harmful Ingredients Found In Everyday Garments

It’s no secret that the fashion industry is one of the largest pollutants in the world. In fact, botanist Paul Richards notes that it comes second only to the oil industry.

Jeans and bootsWe know that most of it is because of the unethical processes of fast fashion, which is notorious for two things: textile waste and toxic chemicals. In the Recycling Council of Ontario’s report on textile waste, it was found that the average Canadian throws out 81 pounds of clothes annually, textiles that could have been reused or recycled. This translates to 9.5 million tons of clothing sent to landfills every year from North American homes. These have severely affected the environment and our physical health as well. 

In this regard, knowledge is power. If you want to be a responsible consumer, it pays to be aware of how your clothes are made and what materials go into their production. Here are seven of the most common harmful ingredients found in everyday garments that you need to avoid. 


Have you ever encountered warning labels such as “Color may wash off” or “Warning: garment may lose dye”? To avoid issues like this, most fashion retailers use azo dye in colouring textile, particularly in cotton, silk, wool, and synthetic fiber. Azo dye is easy to use, relatively cheap, and able to maintain clear and strong colours after multiple washes. However, they also contain concentrations of p-Phenylenediamine or PPD. This chemical may cause contact dermatitis and a host of other skin allergies, too.


PFC or Perfluorocarbon can often be found on various clothing and footwear that claims to be “weatherproof” (or stain-resistant and water-resistant). Continuous exposure to PFC has been associated with both kidney and testicular cancer, obesity, and decreased immunity. In fact, PFC runoffs from DuPont manufacturing plants inflicted a number of health issues, including birth defects, cancer, and thyroid diseases for residents in the surrounding area.


Dimethylformamide or DMF is an organic solvent found in acrylic fibre, which is often used for sweaters and tracksuits, as well as in linings for boots and gloves. DMF is easily absorbed by the skin through direct contact and can cause severe liver damage and other illnesses.


Phthalates are often found in the materials used to print images onto clothes, plastic raincoats, and artificial leather. Constant exposure to this chemical can cause abnormalities in the reproductive system, reduced hormone production, and severe asthma attacks.


While this chemical is commonly found in soaps and toothpaste, recently it has also been spotted in some “anti-bacterial” fabric, more specifically on activewear to shake off the bacteria caused by sweat. Health explains that Triclosan can effectively kill microbes, but too much exposure increases the resistance of bacteria to certain antibiotics — which can, in turn, leave you vulnerable to other microbial diseases.


Ammonia is not a chemical used to make clothes per se, but it is commonly used to wash garments, which makes it harmful all the same. Direct contact with high concentrations of this chemical may inflict skin burns, eye damage, or even blindness. On Pretty Me’s review of Navarro bleach soap, it is explained how ammonia is also used in certain skin lightening products, thanks to its ability to create lather. However, it is not advisable as the chemical is found to cause irritation and burns, especially for dry and sensitive-skinned folks.


Ever wondered why new clothes smell different off the shelf? This is mainly due to the mixtures of chemicals and other toxic treatments. New clothing is often covered with formaldehyde, which is used to prevent wrinkles and the infestation of parasites when being shipped from store to store. Formaldehyde is also known to cause severe diseases like dermatitis and lung cancer.

Many make the mistake of ignoring clothing tags when they go shopping, but it’s a simple task that could save you (and the planet) from harm. Knowledge is power when it comes to making consumer decisions. So no matter how pretty a t-shirt looks, it pays to do your research first. 

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About the Author

Mary Parsley is an avid shopper, foodie, and writer who cares deeply about sustainability and environmental issues. She believes that we should look green alternatives wherever possible, and not settle for cheap alternatives which will eventually cause us harm.

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