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Avoiding Harmful Chemicals. Is Polyester Safe for Babies?


Babies are precious, and their health and safety is a top priority. With so many types of fabrics out there that you can use for infants, it’s helpful to know the impact they can have.

If you look at baby clothes, blankets and bedding sold in popular stores across South Africa, you will find that most of these items consist of 100% Polyester.




Now, the question: Is polyester safe for babies?


Although polyester is found in many baby clothes, toys, blankets, mattresses, and carpets, it is not the ideal solution for babies – especially for use during sleep. Polyester is a manufactured synthetic fiber. Unlike cotton which is made from the fibers that naturally form in the ripening seed pods of the cotton plant.


Here’s what you should know.


Aside from being much more affordable than organic fabrics, Polyester has some qualities which includes anti-wrinkling properties, durability, and it doesn’t stretch or shrink as easily as other materials. This means the baby products will stay looking good and keep their shape. However, the chemical side is what we should be conscious about.


Polyester is made through a chemical process that includes petroleum, coal, air, and water. It is actually a type of plastic, and when it heats up in the dryer, it can emit gasses and chemicals. It is made up of petroleum, coal, water, and air, and it is not breathable.


In some cases, polyester may be treated with weather-resistant or flame-retardant chemicals. Polyester is naturally flame-retardant because of how tightly woven it is, but at times, it is still chemically treated to prevent it from melting in a flame, like plastic. This is not something you want any little cuties to put in their mouth, which they most likely will.


Polyester must also be dyed with a special dye which is said to be toxic to humans. Many dye workers have gotten sick with lung diseases and cancer after working with it for many years.


In spite of this, so many baby products in South Africa are being made with polyester.


What are the effects it has on babies? Polyester is not a breathable fabric. It can make babies sweat and overheat, which may contribute to SIDS. When the body heats up, the chemicals can then be absorbed into the skin.


Babies with sensitive skin, allergies, or eczema can also be affected. Polyester can cause eczema flare-ups due to the non-breathability of the fabric and the unavoidable sweating that follows. This can cause rashes and leave a baby’s skin irritated and itchy. Even if the fabric feels soft, it is still synthetic and chemical-filled, which can cause issues if a baby has sensitive skin or eczema.


Of course, some products are worse offenders than others.


Polyester Baby Products to try and avoid:


  • Clothing and bedding that surrounds the baby

  • Anything that will come in direct contact with the baby’s skin

  • Anything that will need to go into the dryer

  • Anything babies will put in their mouths


Clothing and bedding are the worst because they surround the baby. You don’t want a baby to be wrapped in plastic even if they don’t have any skin issues. It’s weird to think of a fabric as plastic, but that’s in essence what polyester is.


Check labels to ensure there is no polyester listed in the fabrics you buy, even if “organic” claims are made. It’s the only way to know for sure if your finished baby items will contain polyester.



Is polyester safe for sleep?


It’s much more comfortable for your baby to wear natural breathable materials like cotton when it comes to sleep. Polyester fabric isn’t breathable and does a lousy job at regulating body temperature. Using polyester sleepwear (like those cute fuzzy fleece sleepers) increases your baby’s risk of overheating and not getting enough sleep.


It’s OK for babies to wear polyester if they are not reacting to it. Don’t feel bad if several baby garments you own are made from polyester. You can use polyester if your baby takes the fabric well and your indoor temp is on the cooler side but do factor that in if you are adding any more layers, and be sure to check on your baby often. For complete peace of mind, swap out polyester fabrics for something safer.


Overall, cotton remains the safest choice in baby clothing.


Organic cotton is an even better choice, and GOTS-certified cotton (Global Organic Textile Standard) is the ultimate winner. Organic cotton is grown with significantly fewer chemicals than conventional cotton crops require (which is a surprisingly lot – cotton is the most chemically intensive crop in the world!), but even organic cotton fibers can be processed with harmful chemicals post-harvest. GOTS takes it up a notch by guaranteeing that no harmful chemicals have been used from the crops to harvest and all the way through processing.


Even though these are natural fiber fabrics, they are sometimes treated with pesticides as they grow. Cotton is also sometimes treated with chemicals to stiffen it up and give it shape. Even cotton thread can be mercerized, which is a chemical process that stiffens it to give your projects more stitch definition. If you want your fabrics to be chemically free, be sure they are labeled as organic and that you read the breakdown of what material it is made of.


Organic cotton is one of the best options available to replace polyester. You won’t have to worry about the chemicals they put in the polyester or the toxic polyester dye. Organic cotton can be dyed with natural dyes. It may cost a little more money, but it is so worth it to ensure that the baby products are safe.


Conclusion


Although Polyester is considered safe, its production is highly variable and very little disclosure is available, so use your best judgment.


Remember that no matter how hard you try, it’s impossible to protect your baby from all the chemicals out there, so don’t beat yourself up over having more polyester baby items in your home than you would like. Unless your baby is downright sensitive to polyester in which case it’s obviously best to limit its use significantly.


With a simple inclusion of more natural materials in everyday baby items, especially for use during sleep, you will be making a noticeable difference in keeping your baby safer!


Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section and please share this article if you liked it.




References:


Polyesters: Polymer Database; https://polymerdatabase.com/polymer%20classes/Polyester%20type.html


Polyester; Chemistry LibreText; https://chem.libretexts.org/Bookshelves/Organic_Chemistry/Supplemental_Modules_(Organic_Chemistry)/Esters/Reactivity_of_Esters/Polyesters


What is Polyester Fabric: Properties, How its Made and Where; Sewport; https://sewport.com/fabrics-directory/polyester-fabric


Polyester Properties, Production, Price, Market and Uses; Plastics Insight; https://www.plasticsinsight.com/resin-intelligence/resin-prices/polyester/


Exposure Assessment: Potential for the Presence of Phthalates and Other Specified Elements in Undyed Manufactured Fibers and their Colorants; CPSC; https://www.cpsc.gov/s3fs-public/TERA%20Task17%20Report%20Phthalates%20and%20ASTM%20Elements%20in%20Manufactured%20Fibers.pdf


Flame Retardants; NIH; https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/flame_retardants/index.cfm


Appendix BFlame-Retardant Composition in Fabrics: Their Durability and Permanence; NCBI; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK225652/


Flame-Retardant Unsaturated Polyester Resins: An Overview of Past and Recent Developments; IntechOpen; https://www.intechopen.com/books/polyester-production-characterization-and-innovative-applications/flame-retardant-unsaturated-polyester-resins-an-overview-of-past-and-recent-developments


Flame Retardancy; Sew What? Inc.; https://sewwhatinc.com/resources/flame-retardancy/fabric-flammability/


Sustainable Flame-Retardant Finishing of Textiles Advancement in Technology; RHO; https://www.routledgehandbooks.com/doi/10.1201/b18428-5


Some Flame Retardants of Concern; Green Science Policy Institute; https://greensciencepolicy.org/harmful-chemicals/flame-retardants/fr-list/


STANDARD 100 by OEKO-TEX® certification; https://www.oeko-tex.com/en/apply-here/standard-100-by-oeko-tex




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