1. Wear clothing made from natural fibers, like wool, silk, cotton, and hemp, rather than synthetics like polyester and nylon, which are made from chemically produced fibers derived from coal and oil.
2. Buy clothes made from organic fabrics. Look for the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) logo to dodge chemicals commonly used during the growing and production processes.
3. Avoid “wrinkle-free” and “no-iron” items. They are made with perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) — also used in nonstick pans and carpet. The Environmental Protection Agency has deemed PFCs toxic, noting that they can cause a variety of reproductive and developmental problems.
4. Always wash new clothes before wearing. This will help remove excess dyes and certain chemical finishes. (Use nontoxic, plant-based laundry detergents whenever possible.)
5. Steer clear of “pre-shrunk” clothing, which often contains formaldehyde. (You might notice the chemical’s strong odor when you open a new package of T-shirts, for instance.)
6. Buy secondhand goods. Once garments have been worn and washed multiple times, they are less likely to contain chemical residues.
7. Avoid stain-resistant clothes. They rely on polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE), which can cause hormonal imbalances and dysfunctions, especially related to the thyroid.
8. Let your voice be heard. “Informed consumers can advocate for increased chemical safety,” says Agnes Soares da Silva, MD, MPH, an environmental epidemiologist with the Pan American Health Organization. “This is especially important in protecting children, who are the most vulnerable to toxic chemicals.”