When shopping for organic clothing, it is important to be conscious of the textile dyes that are being used in the fabric, the way that the fabric was processed, and any finishes used on the fabric or garment in the manufacturing process. For example, “green washing” is being done on many levels from companies marketing their products to be made with GOTS (Global Organic Trade Standard) certified organic fibers which they then color using chemical laden dyes to finish the fabrics with! This process negates any organic features about the fabric as it has been saturated in heavy metals, toxic chemicals, etc.
There are four main types of dyes used in textiles that you should be aware of when searching for the level of purity you are seeking in apparel and textile products:
- Azo Dyes/conventional
- Low impact/Fiber reactive
- GOTS certified
- Organic/natural clay and plant-based dyes
Most conventional fabrics (especially ones made with synthetic fibers) contain synthetic dyes also known as azo dyes. These dyes contain chemical carcinogens like petrochemicals, formaldehyde, amines, and heavy metals; ingredients that are all known to cause cancer, disrupt your hormones and cause other ailments such as infertility, respiratory diseases, and contact dermatitis. These dyes can affect a person’s health via water exposure, inhalation, and skin contact.
Low impact/fiber reactive dyes are free of heavy metals, toxic compounds and carcinogens, and they are much better for you and the environment. Low impact dyes are still synthetically based but do not contain the many toxic ingredients that are found in dyes such as the azo dyes.
Most GOTS certified dyes are essentially low impact dyes. The only difference is that GOTS dyes come with a certification verifying the imposed regulations and standards and are tested for skin irritations and sensitivities. GOTS dyes are prohibited from containing toxic materials including heavy metals, fluorocarbons, ammonia, bleaches and formaldehyde. Therefore all the GOTS dyes are certified as “non toxic” and have been tested to not cause any dermatological health effects. However, if someone has multiple allergies and sensitivities these dyes may still affect their health.
Clay and Plant-Based Dyes
Naturally derived clay and plant-based dyes are the most ideal dyes to have in your clothing from a purity standpoint for our health and the health of our environment. Plant-based dyes are made from naturally derived ingredients such as roots, nuts, flowers, clays, and tree barks. Dating back to 3,000 BC, plant-based dyes are the oldest dye method and now unfortunately the least common, due to time and cost. Additionally, the fact that many knit fabric blends are not able to hold natural dyes as well as synthetic dyes is also a factor of why they are not more commonly available; along with there being a more limited range of color in natural dyes compared to synthetically derived dyes.
*NOTE: Sometimes chemical-based mordants are used to adhere natural dye pigments to fabrics so it is important to inquire the process that was used in the dying of the textile if you do find fabrics/garments that are dyed naturally.
Before purchasing a garment or textile that you hope to be organic or free of chemicals (to feel secure about your purchase and insure you are getting what you assume to be pure and natural) contact the company you are purchasing the product from and do not be afraid to inquire about the dyes used, the chemical processes that were involved in making the fabrics and if any finishes have been used in the manufacturing process.