This may be a controversial post, although I don’t intend it to be! This pregnancy, I’m making the switch to almost all organic baby clothes. This isn’t something I did (or was able to do) with our other children, nor was it something I considered a priority until recently. In fact, there are several reasons that I’m just now making this switch with our 6th baby.
Organic Baby Clothes: Why We Switched
With our first two children (a boy and a girl), we were so grateful to receive hand-me-downs and not have to purchase many baby items at all. In fact, we used these same clothes for all of our children, but after being worn by 2 boys and three girls and stored in the attic in between, there were very few clothing items that were still wearable.
Earlier this year when I cleaned out the attic and took stock of the baby clothes, I found exactly 6 items that were not stained or had holes beyond repair. A lot had also dry-rotted from the time stored in the attic.
Since I knew I’d need to replace most of the baby clothes anyway, I started researching the most sustainable and eco-friendly options for baby clothes and discovered that almost all of them were organic lines.
Our family has eaten almost completely organic for years, but I hadn’t prioritized organic clothing in the past. When I started researching, I found that perhaps this should have been a priority for me much sooner… Here’s why:
Pesticide Use on Cotton Crops
Cotton is one of the most sprayed crops in the world.
In fact, while cotton only makes up 3% of the total farmed land area, it accounts for 25% of the insecticides and 10% of the pesticides used worldwide, making it one of the most chemically treated crops. Because of these troubling statistics I decided to purchase organic baby clothes to do our part to reduce the amount of pesticides used, but also to help protect our baby’s delicate skin.
There are dozens of pesticides used on cotton crops and about half of them have been named as possible or probably carcinogens by the EPA.
Our last baby struggled with eczema, and I always wondered if it was partly due to being born breech and not getting the same bacterial transfer during the birth process, but I also thought that her clothing might have contributed to the problem since she seemed to react to wearing clothes for a while.
Startlingly, only about 10% of the pesticides used on cotton crops are thought to actually accomplish their job and the rest ends up in the air and water supply. The EPA estimates that up to 2 million birds may be killed annually from just one of the insecticides used on cotton.
Thankfully, most pesticide residue is removed from cotton during processing, but small amounts remain and the environmental impact is still tremendous.
Problems with Processing
If pesticide and herbicide use were the only problem with cotton crops, that would certainly be bad enough, but the problems don’t stop there.
Cotton also requires dozens more chemicals, including bleach, during the long process of turning raw cotton into fiber for clothing and even food. Cottonseed oil, though not technically considered an edible oil, undergoes a long chemical process to become a usable food oil.
Synthetic Fabric & Clothing
While conventional cotton sprayed with dozens of pesticides isn’t a great option, it is still typically a better option than many synthetic fabrics.
Many synthetic fabrics are made with petrochemicals, plastics and other substances that have been linked to endocrine disruption, hormone imbalance, and even potentially some types of cancer. Sound crazy? Think of all the problems with plastic use in our homes and environment and consider having those plastic chemicals in contact with your body’s largest organ for all or part of the day… every single day.
Flame Retardant Chemicals
Aside from the problems with the fabric itself, there is a bigger issue looming with many children’s clothing: finishing chemicals and flame retardants.
This is a tough issue. On the one hand, protecting children from fire with flame retardant chemicals seems like a great idea. On the other hand, the chemicals used in this process, including PBDEs, have been linked to various problems including hormone disruption, early onset of puberty, and developmental delays.
Over 80% of children’s items tested (including clothing, bedding and cloth toys) contained these chemicals and these chemicals were found in blood and urine samples of most children and even in breastmilk.
Organic Baby Clothes: What to Do
The great news is that while there are a bevy of bad options for baby clothes, there are some great options as well. Organic cotton is growing in popularity and organic cotton farming is emerging as a major crop in recent years with good reason.
Organic cotton is grown sustainably and without toxic pesticides or other chemicals. There are strict guidelines for growing, transporting and processing this cotton to avoid contamination. Not only is this option much more environmentally friendly, it is safer for the farmers and their families and provides a long-term solution for cotton growth as pests are becoming increasingly resistant to pesticides.
Thankfully, whether you are expecting your first child and starting from scratch, or already have one or more children, there are simple (and inexpensive) options for avoiding harmful chemicals in clothing:
1. Organic Clothing
If you are starting from scratch with baby clothes (like I am this pregnancy), consider creating a simple capsule wardrobe and choosing all organic clothing. While organic clothing is sometimes more expensive, I’ve found great deals on organic clothing making it the same price or cheaper than the main baby brands.
As a sixth-time mom, I also realize that with my first couple of children, we had many more clothes than we actually needed. Sure, they were hand-me-downs, but I spent so much time washing, folding and organizing the mountain of baby clothes… and my kids never even wore some of them because they had so many! In fact, babies wear the first couple newborn sizes for such a short period of time that only my favorite 7-10 outfits for them were ever even used.
To simplify, I’m sticking to just those 7-10 outfits this time from the beginning. Reducing the amount of clothing we have has allowed me to choose higher quality options and not spend any more money. I purchased 7 outfits and some extra onesies and hats from these brands and didn’t spend any more than I would have at any baby store:
- Under the Nile
- Burt’s Bees Baby
(Update: I purchased and received as gifts a few items from Burt’s Bees. I feel it important to note that this company is now owned by Clorox and does contribute money to prevent GMO labeling and has changed the original organic formula of many Burt’s Bees products. From my research, their clothing is still organic and as I said, I received some items from them, but do not consider them the best choice of organic clothing.)
- Local Brands: Unfortunately, there are no local companies that make organic baby clothing where we live, but I have several crafty friends who do and the homemade blankets and clothing from them are my most treasured baby items.
Other Organic Brands:
As demand grows, there are thankfully quite a few brands that meet organic standards but that I have not personally purchased from (since we are buying so few outfits for this baby). Thanks to readers who vetted and suggested these options. Most of these are available online and some are available in local boutiques or stores. I’ve linked them here to give an idea of the pricing and styles of each brand:
- Colored Organics
- Parade Baby Organics
- Sweet Peanut
- Hanna Anderson (make sure items are organic as they carry both organic and non-organic)
- Nui Organics
- Little Green Radicals
- Kate Quinn Organics
2. Second Hand Natural Fiber Clothing
My research on baby clothes made me want to throw away all our non-organic clothes and start from scratch, but since this is neither financially responsible or remotely reasonable (I have NO desire to shop for a new wardrobe for 8 people!), I found a second solution: choosing natural fiber clothing second hand when possible.
As I mentioned above, while cotton is highly treated with pesticides, dyes and bleach, most of the residue is removed before it is made into clothing (though not all, so organic is still the best option when it is possible). Synthetic materials, however, contain plastics and chemicals that are not removed during processing and which can be absorbed through the skin and affect the body in various ways.
Since (most of us) have to wear clothes anyway, we can reduce much of our exposure to chemicals in clothing by choosing natural fiber clothing (cotton, wool, silk, cashmere, hemp, and linen). Even better (and more eco-friendly) is to choose natural fiber clothing from second hand sources like thrift stores and consignment shops. Not only is this more eco-friendly since clothing is being reused, but these items are also typically less expensive and have been washed multiple times to remove any remaining residue.
As much as I’d love to, I can’t fully replace all of our wardrobes with only organic options (though I am going to do this slowly if we need to purchase new items), but I can choose natural fiber fabrics and purchase second hand when possible. (TIP: I’ve found that our local thrift and consignment stores often have some incredible deals on natural fiber clothing (cotton, linen, etc.) when I have the time to look!
In a perfect world, we could all choose organic clothing all the time and remove the need for synthetic materials and highly sprayed cotton… Heck, in a perfect world, we’d also be avoiding plastics and choosing all organic food too (or growing our own).
Since that isn’t possible for most families, we can still make positive changes by choosing safer options whenever possible, especially because these options don’t have to be more expensive and can even save money! Choosing natural fiber materials from second-hand stores benefits us, the planet and our budgets and helps reduce the need for environmentally taxing new materials to be created.
Have you ever considered organic clothing? Purchase anything second hand? Will you consider it now?