The Health Risks of Toxic Fibers and Fabrics

Unraveling The Health Hazards Concealed In Your Clothing Choices


30 May, 2023

Table of contents

As we become more and more conscious of the environmental impact of the clothing industry, our buying choices reflect the carbon footprint our consumption leaves behind. However, the majority of consumers never think about how toxic and harmful for their health that piece of fabric could be? Neither do they think of its origin nor its manufacturing and the toxic load on the body and in the environment. Unfortunately only a small part of our clothing is not harmful to wear and produced with natural and eco-friendly fibers. Most of them are still manufactured with tons of chemicals becoming highly toxic and increasing the negative effects on our body’s health.

Let's take an easy example, take a glimpse at your clothing labels and you will definitely find out that most of them contain materials such as polyester, acrylic, nylon and acetate described on it. Besides that, with the technological advances in the Textile Industry, we usually shop more and more for fabrics that are meant to make our lives easier, such as the wrinkle-free, stain resistant and insect repellent fabrics, but what we don’t know is that those fabrics are a great source of toxins that unfavorably affect our health and the environment.

A wide variety of chemicals used in the production steps of textiles such as Azo dyes, NPCs, PFCs, formaldehyde and heavy metals not only add heavily to environmental pollution by hazardous chemical waste water discharge, they are also extremely harmful to the human body. These materials may not be immediately noticeable but in the long run can be dangerous. Through the years and through lots of research, some health hazards such as cancer, hormonal dysfunction, as well as immunity harm and behavioral problems have been linked with the wearing of toxic fabrics and fibers.


Polyester is a synthetic fiber used to make a wide range of clothing. It is one of the most widely used materials in cheap clothing manufacturing today. As per a report by Vantage Market research, The global Polyester Staple Fiber market size was valued at USD 27.39 Billion in 2021 and is expected to reach USD 43.35 Billion by 2028. Across global mills, over 50% of the fibers used in the industry are polyester based.

Fabrics woven or knitted from polyester thread or yarn such as Terylene, Dacron, Lycra or Vycron are the most harmful fabrics for our body. Besides that, technologic fabrics popular for wrinkle-free, wear resistance, drying up properties and water and wind resistance are also produced with polyester fibers and are not recommended for people with skin sensitivity.

The tiny bits of plastics that are released from polyester enter our own bodies and result in skin rashes, respiratory issues and eye irritation.

Polyester fiber is made from synthetic polymers that are made from esters of dihydric alcohol and terephthalic acid that means, both of them are highly toxic and these toxins are not completely removed after the manufacturing process, finding an easy entry into our body through moist skin. Additionally, when exposed to heat, polyester releases chemicals like antimony oxide, a known carcinogen.

Some disorders such as reduced sperm count out and behavioral changes are also associated with the constant wearing of Polyesters clothes. Not only is Polyester very harmful for people but also it is dangerous for the environment since it is hard to be recycled and also biodegraded and its production disposes toxins in the water and emits lots of pollutants in the air.


Rayon is another man-made fiber. Rayon is made from natural sources such as wood and agricultural products that are regenerated as cellulose fiber. The rayon fibers market was estimated to be worth USD 15.7 Billion in 2020, and is expected to reach USD 27.8 Billion by 2027.

Rayon is a fiber produced from recycled wood pulp or bamboo cellulose processed by a combination of many chemicals involving carbon disulphide, sulfuric acid, ammonia, acetone and caustic soda to bear regular washing and constant wearing. The carbon disulphide emitted from rayon fabric can cause nausea, headache, vomiting, chest and muscle pain and insomnia. The toxins released from rayon can also cause tissue necrosis, anorexia and Parkinson’s disease for people who regularly wear clothing made of it. It is evident that rayon is a hazardous fabric for people, but its chemicals disposed in the factory effluents can also affect the ecosystem by polluting the water, decreasing the plant’s growth and shortening animals’ life.


Acrylic is a synthetic fiber made from a polymer called polyacrylonitrile. Similar to polyester, it is a petroleum product, and hence very harmful to the environment. However, it has many benefits. It dries quickly, is easy to wash, is very lightweight and provides warmth. It is a material of choice to make economical clothing for cold weather. It is also used widely in making home decor items like carpets and blankets. The acrylic fiber market was valued at USD 5.1 Billion in 2021, and expected to reach USD 7.8 Billion in 2032.

Acrylic is manufactured with a combination of toxic substances and it is pointed as one of the causes of women’s breast cancer.

Besides that, acrylic’s manufacturing process, if not properly monitored can result in an explosion. Acrylic fibers are highly inflammable. They are neither easily recyclable nor biodegradable in the environment.


Another hazardous fabric but yet very popular is nylon. Nylon was invented in 1938 and led to a textile revolution. Nylon offers strength, elasticity and resistance to mildew. It is used in apparel, but its usage goes beyond clothing. Toothbrushes, carpets, guitar strings, are among the many products that use nylon. The global nylon market size was valued at USD 22.08 billion in 2021. The market is projected to grow from USD 22.83 billion in 2022 to USD 30.25 billion by 2029.

This fiber is petroleum based and heavily receives chemical treatments using caustic soda, sulfuric acid and formaldehyde during its manufacturing. Moreover, the fabric receives a combination of bleaching and softer agents such as chloroform, limonene, pentene and terpineol. Because of this reason, Nylon is one of the least eco-friendly textiles and even after the manufacturing process is finished, the fabric still retains toxins residues that can be harmful to people’s health. Some health conditions are related to the frequent wear of Nylon clothes such as Cancer, skin allergies, dizziness, headaches, spine pains and system dysfunction.


Cotton is a natural fiber, and the most sought after fabric for comfortable clothing. According to the World Wildlife Organization, it is the most widespread profitable non-food crop in the world. Its production provides income for more than 250 million people worldwide and employs almost 7% of all labor in developing countries. Approximately half of all textiles are made of cotton. Because of its increased demand, there has been a huge change in the way cotton is produced. Today we see a lot of non-organic cotton in use. Excessive chemical use and dangerous manufacturing processes, have led to the crop gaining the name of the “dirtiest crop”.

The major hazards of cotton lie in the manufacturing process. Farm workers and cotton pickers are exposed to residual impacts of pesticide use in cotton production, in addition to dust, ultraviolet radiation. A soil bacterium known as Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) is incorporated in cotton seed through genetic modification and it has resistance against certain bollworms of cotton.

In a 1987 study conducted by the California Department of Health Services, it was reported that cotton-growing communities experienced increased cases of fatigue, eye irritation, rhinitis, throat irritation, nausea, and diarrhea.

Apart from the obvious harmful effects of cotton growing to its producers, cotton is also deemed very harmful to the planet. Cotton production leads to pollution, soil erosion and water contamination. The production is also very water intensive, and causes freshwater loss through evaporation and inefficient water management.

Due to its many harmful effects during production to human life and the environment, organic cotton is becoming increasingly popular.

Vegan Leather

Vegan leather is fake leather which does not come from animal sources. There are many types of vegan leather and each material follows a different process. Some companies use imitation leather made from plants or organic waste. However, the most widely used form of vegan leather is polyurethane (PU) and polyvinyl and chloride (PVC). This type of leather is less environmentally harmful as compared to the process of making real leather. However, since it is a plastic based material, it takes years to degrade and releases toxic chemicals into the environment. Microfibers from these materials are a threat of humans as they often enter the food chain. Healthier alternatives of vegan leather are derived from mushrooms, pineapple, and other vegetable waste.