Research Shows Harmful Chemicals Can Remain In Clothing Even After Washing

“Exposure to these chemicals increases the risk of allergic dermatitis, but more severe health effect for humans as well as the environment could possibly be related to these chemicals. Some of them are suspected or proved carcinogens and some have aquatic toxicity,”

textile chemical release

Giovanna Luongo found that there are harmful chemical residues left in clothing even after 10 washes and presents the information in her Doctoral Thesis, Chemicals in textiles A potential source for human exposure and environmental pollution.

This scientifically validates what some of us have been saying for years, that some harmful chemical residues can be extremely difficult if not impossible to remove, (as the rigmarole we have to go through in an attempt to have safe to wear clothing to wear attests), and that normally undetectable trace levels can cause disabling effects.

Many chemicals present in clothing (and bedding) enter the human body via dermal absorption, and can be detected in urine hours later!

This poster shows how chemicals enter our bodies:

From the CCOHS

What kinds of chemicals are we absorbing from clothing (and bedding)? And what are those chemicals doing after they get washed down our drains?

chemical residues in clothing after washing

“Quinoline, benzothiazole, benzotriazole and derivative compounds are sparingly soluble in water but more easily soluble in hot water. Laundry can, thus, be a route of emission into the environment of contaminants present in textile.”

“Analyses on samples before and after five and ten times washing were directed to quantify that emissions. Results showed an average loss of more than 50% for benzothiazole, whilst quinoline revealed a lower washout effect, probably due to the different usage, thus a diverse interaction with textile fibers. In Figure 5.5 the average percentage of loss after five and ten washings is presented. Paired t-test showed that loss to be statistically significant for many of the investigated compounds (p<0.05).

This suggests that laundry is a source of emission of these compounds into household wastewater. The loss of some compounds, e.g. quinolines, was slow (20% after ten washings), demonstrating that significant amounts of the chemicals remain in the clothes for a long time and thus have the potential of a chronic impact on human health.”

Water Life Cycle ASK yourself

More from the paper:

Chemicals in textiles A potential source for human exposure and environmental pollution
Doctoral Thesis by  Giovanna Luongo
Department of Environmental Science and Analytical Chemistry
Stockholm University 2015

“An in vivo experiment performed by Blum et al. in 1978 [57] demonstrated that a chemical present in clothes can enter the human body via dermal absorption. In this study pajamas containing 5% tri (2,3-dibromopropyl) phosphate (a flame retardant, Mw = 697.6 Da, Log KOW = 3.71), was worn by children during sleep (8 hours exposure period). The following morning a fifty-fold increase in the metabolite 2, 3-dibromopropanol was detected in the urine.

After changing to a pajama free of the substance, the urine concentration of the metabolite slowly decreased, but, after five days, it was still twenty times higher compared to the initial concentration.”

Even if exposure to chemicals from textiles is supposed to take place through skin contact, other up-take routes cannot be ignored. By evaporation, substances can migrate into the air, or due to wear, fibers can be released to the air giving additional routes of human exposure through inhalation or ingestion. Not only clothes, but several other textile articles are present in the indoor environment and can all summed up to entail an exposure source of potentially high importance.

The picture of textiles as a source of chemical pollution can be broadened if we consider the washing of textiles. Compounds in the fabric can be washed-out during laundry and, via wastewater and sewage plants, reach the aquatic environment. The pattern for chemical release from textiles, presented in Figure 3.1, shows how textiles contribute to environmental pollution.

Results from non-targeted screening showed more than hundred chemicals tentatively identified. The list of candidate compounds include substances of diverse functionalities, among them stabilizers, lubricants, plasticizers, solvents, biocides, and intermediates of resinous products and azo-dyes

It is interesting to note that three of the four garments made of “100 % organic cotton” and branded with “ecolabels” contained BT, as well as MTBT, with concentrations 7 to 30 times higher than the median concentration of the “ordinary” 100 % cotton garments. This suggests that “eco-labelling” is no guarantee that textiles are free from harmful chemicals.

The hazards posed by the identified substances were primarily skin sensitization and irritation, but also reproduction toxicity, and proved or suspected carcinogenicity. Seven of the tentatively identified compounds were present in the SVHC list of the REACH regulation.

Chemical residues from textiles have the potential to migrate from clothes to the human skin and be absorbed according to their size and octanol/water partition coefficient, and may thus cause local and/or systemic effects. Harmless compounds or compounds with minor health effect could be metabolized by bacteria present on the skin, or if absorbed, be converted to harmful substances by hepatic enzyme systems. A combination of different toxic compounds could also enhance (or reduce) the health risk of the single substances.

“Exposure to these chemicals increases the risk of allergic dermatitis, but more severe health effect for humans as well as the environment could possibly be related to these chemicals. Some of them are suspected or proved carcinogens and some have aquatic toxicity,”


Fibromyalgia is one other effect, which I wrote about here.

Neurological and other adverse health effects (aka symptoms) are common in those of us with chemical or environmental “sensitivities”.

Unless you use fragrance-free and non-toxic laundry products (but please be aware that not all fragrance-free laundry products are free of harmful chemicals), you are adding more toxic chemicals to your clothing (and bedding) and water and even the air that is pumping out from your dryer vent to the whole neighborhood!

It’s bad when there are Toxic chemicals in everyday laundry products!?!


More about toxic chemicals in textiles (clothing, bedding, etc)

Another research paper from Sweden (published in 2014):

The Swedish Chemicals Agency has identified hazardous chemicals that may be found in clothing and textiles in our indoor environment:

– Only a few substances in textiles are regulated and we think that the regulations need to be developed. In many cases there is a lack of knowledge about chemical substances in textiles and the transfer of information in the supply chains need to be improved, says Susan Strömbom at the Swedish Chemicals Agency.

More than 10 percent of the substances we identified are considered to be of potential concern for human health. These include certain substances that can cause allergies, e.g. dyes.

– In the study we saw that many dyes can cause allergies, most of them are not included in the tests that are used to find the cause of allergy, says Susan Strömbom.

Approximately 5 percent of the substances that we identified are expected to have a very harmful impact on the environment.

Full PDF (142 pages)

Different types of certifications:


The actual certification standard sites:

The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)
What is OEKO-TEX?


About natural fibers:


For info about how some natural materials are sourced, see the drop-down menu when you hover over the fashion icon


This post discusses the chemical issues (or some of them)


Greenpeace International is doing some great work to Detox Fashion



“In 2011, a group of major apparel and footwear brands and retailers made a shared commitment to help lead the industry towards zero discharge of hazardous chemicals by 2020.” …

Documents (not light reading)


Green America’s Fall2015 issue features articles to “Detox Your Closet!”

There’s no short link to this issue yet, but some of the articles are available here:


Some resources for where to buy safer clothing and textiles:

Chemical-free (we wish)


When all else fails, some more ways to detox your laundry:

Laundry Decontamination Protocols


So many people need safe, truly non-toxic / chemical-free clothing and bedding, with complete, honest transparency and disclosure about source materials and processing (life cycle details).

There is currently too little understanding and too much green-wash.


If chronic pain, like Fibromyalgia is only one effect of  this kind of chemical exposure, and there are many others, then imagine how much healthier we would all be if our clothing (and bedding) wasn’t toxic?

Take note manufacturers, people all over the world are looking for truly safe, non-toxic, chemical-free clothing for ourselves and our families. (I get thousands of them looking here).

We don’t like green-wash, or claims that your products are chemical-free when they are not (like at least one popular mail order company does even though they should know better… many small companies just don’t know).

We would prefer you do your research, look into the life cycle of your materials, seek out the purest, most carefully made materials, be honest, completely honest about everything, including your costs and profit margins, and we will buy from you, even when it costs more, because we are worth it!


16 responses to “Research Shows Harmful Chemicals Can Remain In Clothing Even After Washing

  1. I forgot to add the link to this article, it discusses a few other things…

    Cotton, cashmere, chemicals … what really goes into making our clothes?

    Sensitized to growing concern, manufacturers are paying increased attention to hazardous substances in our wardrobe’s supply chain.

  2. Excellent blog, Linda! Such an important yet often unconsidered topic!

    • Thanks Amelia… You are someone who knows first hand what a barrier to accessing wearable and usable clothing and bedding those unnecessary chemicals create.

      It’s especially important in the winter when we need warm clothing to wear! Clothing that allows us to remain functional. Shouldn’t be as hard as it is for too many of us to have basic, appropriate clothing available.

      I know it’s hard for people to imagine feeling like they have a really horrible flu or are wearing a 50 lb lead suit because of trace levels of these toxic chemicals in clothing, as too many of us have experienced. At least those of us with MCS/ES know it’s from the textiles (or furniture), many people have too many toxic things in their homes to make the connections to specific items.

      I am glad to see more attention being paid to this subject, and hope that it means much safer options in the not too distant future.

  3. Having taught Earth Science, I know how many kids do not connect what they put down the drains as having anything to do with their drinking water. Essentially, all the water we have on the planet is the same water the dinosaurs were drinking, Nature has limited ability to deal with toxic synthetic chemicals. With no way to remove the toxic chemicals they just keep building up.

    • Indeed… the air too…
      We are not separate from “nature” in that way… We were not designed to be polluted, especially 24/7 like we are now…

      • So true. I went out to breakfast Saturday and the waitress who normally does not wear perfume had it on. Although most people would have considered it a normal amount to breathe in — I am still dealing with the issues from it 3 days later.

        • There is something so fundamentally wrong that it’s ok to poison and pollute people and the environment we all depend on for life.
          I hope that you will soon recover from all exposures quickly,and indeed, that toxic exposures are eliminated from all of our daily lives.

          • Thanks for the well wishes. Holiday season the use of toxic chemicals i.e. scented candles and such seems to skyrocket. Maybe this year the New Year’s resolution for lots of people will be to give up all the synthetic toxic fragrances.

            • One of us needs to do a post about all the fake (toxic) cinnamon and other holiday gases people are being subjected to and get an IAQ improvement campaign going for retail environments… If I wasn’t housebound and could write from more personal experience on this more recent phenomena, I’d do it, but it started after I stopped being able to shop due to all the other toxic exposures, like what was coming off clothing and electronics…

              I think the fragrance and indoor air “freshener” polluting industry is trying to cover up that stink… Making people even more dazed as they walk around shopping malls…

              No wonder people in middle age are in pain, drinking and taking pharmaceuticals like never before, getting brain cancer and dementia, and committing suicide… and the children… so many have serious chronic illnesses now…

              We are being poisoned for profit… (I have been gassed myself today, so I don’t hesitate to simplify the facts, as we can well experience them before others… hello canaries…)

              Let’s hope people can open their eyes, minds, and hearts, and demand (politely yet firmly) change… and accept nothing less than healthy products so that future generations don’t have to suffer the way so many of us are these days

            • It helps whenever anyone speaks up. I was reading a blog by Doreen Virtue (author) the other day where she explained why she stopped dying her hair because of all of the toxic chemicals and doesn’t wear makeup etc for the same reason. She has a pretty big following so hopefully more people will get the message.

            • I think we are very close to the 100th Monkey… So many people (and children) with adverse health effects now, so people are starting to question why…

            • Sad it has to come to this point before the questions are finally asked.

            • Cognitive disconnect… Obfuscation… The commercials and malls are all selling this stuff, so it must be safe, right?

            • I believe I detect a note of sarcasm in your last question. :D :D

  4. I wonder if they measured phthalates in the store fragrances and laundry products…??? Most of us know those don’t wash out :/

    Phthalates in infant cotton clothing: Occurrence and implications for human exposure.


    Clothing easily adsorbed the chemicals in the environment, and became a source of human exposure to chemicals. However, large contacted surface area and long exposure duration have elevated human exposure to chemicals from clothing, such as phthalates. Among them, cotton clothing, which infants prefer to wear, has been proven to adsorb phthalates more easily than other fabrics.

    While infants are developing, they are easily affected by phthalates. In this study, in order to study accumulation of phthalates in infant cotton clothing during the whole process from production to the first wearing, 24 infant cotton clothing samples were collected from shopping malls in Harbin, China.

    High detection rates and concentrations suggest that phthalates in the environment are widely adsorbed to infant cotton clothing, and traditional laundering for infant clothing cannot remove phthalates completely.

    The median concentration of the total phthalates was 4.15 μg/g. Di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) has become the dominant phthalate. For the estimated daily intakes (EDIs) for infants, dibutyl phthalate (DBP) had the highest contribution, followed by di-iso-butyl phthalate (DiBP) and DEHP.

    Dermal absorption has become the main route of infant exposure to phthalates, and ingestion contributed very little. The result of comparing with the EDIs via dermal absorption from house air and dust suggests that clothing plays an important role of dermal absorption exposure to phthalates.

    For risk assessment, the carcinogenic risk of BBP and DEHP indicates that the level of DEHP in infant cotton clothing might pose potential adverse effects to infant health.

    Phthalates in infant cotton clothing: Occurrence and implications for human exposure

    • Levels and profiles of 6 phthalates in infant cotton clothing were analyzed.
    • Traditional laundering for infant clothing cannot remove phthalates completely.
    • Dermal absorption was the main route of infant exposure to phthalates.
    • Cotton clothing was important for infant exposure to phthalates via dermal uptake.
    • DEHP in infant cotton clothing might pose potential risk to infant health.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.