Understanding the Health and Safety Risks of Polyester-Based Clothing

Understanding the Health and Safety Risks of Polyester-Based Clothing

Recently, I saw a post on TikTok that was explaining the dangers of wearing polyester-based clothing.

Since our business primarily revolves around polyester-based clothing, this sort of thing raises the alarm.

This blog is going to attempt to break this topic down as pragmatically as I can. Any help and input with regards to correct info is always appreciated. Please let me know in the comments if I'm way off-base with this breakdown or if you feel the same!

First, I find it best to start with the definion to better understand what we're discussing (This is the definition of polyester as defined by Britannica.com)

"Polyester, a class of synthetic polymers built up from multiple chemical repeating units linked together by ester (CO-O) groups. Polyesters display a wide array of properties and practical applications. Permanent-press fabrics, disposable soft-drink bottles, compact discs, rubber tires, and enamel paints represent only a few of the products made from this group.

Polyesters most commonly are prepared from a condensation reaction between an organic alcohol (containing hydroxyl [OH] groups) and a carboxylic acid (containing carboxyl [COOH] groups)."

Let's dive into why many businesses use polyester-based fabrics in their lineups. For the record, we're talking about fabrics like polyester (virgin & recycled/upcycled) nylon, rayon, spandex and the like.

While there can be health and safety risks associated with wearing polyester-based clothing, it's important to acknowledge that there are also reasons why many people continue to use and enjoy these garments. Here are some points that highlight why polyester-based clothing is considered acceptable for use:

  1. Affordability: Polyester is a cost-effective fabric compared to many natural alternatives. Its affordability makes it accessible to a wide range of consumers, allowing them to purchase a variety of clothing options without breaking the bank.

  2. Durability: Polyester is known for its strength and durability. It is resistant to stretching, shrinking, and wrinkling, making it a popular choice for everyday clothing items and sportswear. Polyester garments often retain their shape and color even after multiple washes, which extends their lifespan.

  3. Versatility: Polyester is a versatile fabric that can be easily blended with other fibers, such as cotton or elastane, to enhance its properties. This allows for a wide range of clothing styles and designs, including activewear, outerwear, formal wear and more.

  4. Easy Care: Polyester is a low-maintenance fabric that requires minimal ironing and is quick to dry. Its ability to resist wrinkles makes it convenient for travel and everyday wear, as it can save time and effort on garment care.

  5. Moisture Wicking: While polyester may not be as breathable as natural fibers, it has moisture-wicking properties. This means it can draw moisture away from the skin and transfer it to the outer surface of the fabric, where it evaporates more quickly. This feature is particularly beneficial for athletic and sportswear, as it helps keep the body dry during physical activities.

  6. Colorfastness: Polyester has excellent colorfastness, meaning it retains its colour well and is less likely to fade or bleed when exposed to sunlight, washing, or chemicals. This quality allows polyester garments to maintain their vibrant appearance over time.

  7. Innovation and Sustainability Efforts: The textile industry is continuously evolving, and efforts are being made to improve the sustainability of polyester production. Some manufacturers are adopting eco-friendly practices, such as recycling plastic bottles to create polyester fibers, reducing water and energy consumption during production, and exploring alternative dyeing processes that minimize chemical usage.

While polyester-based clothing has its advantages, it is important for consumers to be aware of the associated risks and make informed choices based on their personal preferences and values. Balancing affordability, durability, and style with health and environmental considerations can help individuals make conscientious decisions about their clothing purchases.

Health Risks & Safety Concerns

In today's fashion industry, polyester-based clothing has become increasingly popular due to its affordability, versatility, and ease of care. However, while polyester offers many advantages, it is crucial to be aware of the potential health and safety risks associated with wearing this synthetic fabric. Let's shed light on these risks and provide helpful information for making informed choices about your wardrobe.

  1. Skin Irritation and Allergic Reactions:

Polyester is a synthetic material made from petroleum-derived fibers. It is typically known to have a low level of breathability, which can trap heat and moisture against the skin. This trapped moisture, along with the friction caused by polyester fibers, can lead to skin irritation, redness, itching, and rashes, especially for individuals with sensitive skin. Additionally, some people may develop allergic reactions to the chemicals used in the manufacturing process of polyester, further exacerbating skin issues.

  1. Increased Body Odor:

As mentioned previously, polyester is not a breathable fabric. This lack of breathability prevents proper air circulation around the body, resulting in increased sweat retention. The accumulation of sweat and bacteria on the skin can lead to unpleasant body odor. Moreover, polyester tends to retain odors more than natural fabrics that can make it difficult to remove the smell even after washing.

  1. Chemical Exposure:

Depending on the business, the production of polyester fabric involves the use of various chemicals, including solvents, finishes, dyes, and flame retardants. These chemicals may leave residues on the fabric, which can come into contact with your skin. Some of these substances have been linked to adverse health effects such as skin irritation, respiratory issues, and potential long-term health risks.

  1. Microfiber Pollution:

Another environmental concern associated with polyester-based clothing is microfiber pollution. Like all fibers, polyester sheds during washing (particularly when drying using an appliance) and ends up in wastewater, eventually making their way into rivers, lakes, and oceans. These microfibers are non-biodegradable and can persist in the environment for hundreds of years. Marine life can mistake them for food, leading to ingestion and potential harm to aquatic ecosystems.

  1. Fire Hazards:

Polyester is a highly flammable material and melts when exposed to heat or fire. This characteristic can pose a significant safety risk, especially in situations where there is a potential for fire accidents. Melting polyester can adhere to the skin, causing severe burns, and release toxic fumes, putting individuals at further risk.

To summize, the possibility of skin irritations, allergic reactions, increased body odor, chemical exposure, microfiber pollution, and fire hazards are some of the key concerns to consider.

To mitigate these risks, you may opt for natural fabrics like cotton, linen, or bamboo which offer better breathability and are less likely to cause skin irritation. When it's time, washing our clothing and letting them hang dry, air dry or overall less time in the dryer to mitigate the amount of fibers being shed. Additionally, when purchasing polyester-based clothing, look for products labeled as "low-impact" or "eco-friendly" and businesses that are transparent about what they're up to, to reduce the chemical load and environmental impact. Being informed about the materials we wear can help us make healthier choices for ourselves and the planet.

All of this eventually lead me to the question, "What exactly is in polyester-based fabrics that makes them dangerous to humans?"

After doing some digging on the internet, and reading a considerable amount of comments on videos, posts, etc on social, there is a large amount of concern about a chemical called, "Antimony Oxide" that is present in polyester-based fabric.

So, what is antimony oxide?

"Antimony oxide is a white powder and is derived from the mineral stibnite (antimony sulfide) or produced by the oxidation of antimony metal or as a byproduct of the refining or antimonial-lead alloys. It sometimes behaves as a metal and sometimes as a non metal." Clear as mud, right?

Basically, when this stuff is heated, over time it causes an array of serious health problems including cancer, respitory (breathing) problems and various skin irritations.

Naturally, I had to wander further down the rabbit hole. My two biggest questions were, "What temperature does polyester-based clothing have to reach in order to be dangerous for humans? And, what kinds of "heated situations" would we find ourselves in for this chemical to be released?" (Are we talking about situations like generating body heat during a workout? Clothing being left in a car on a hot day? Being outside somewhere in the summer? Or, are we on the more extreme side of things like, catching fire?)

This is what I managed to find out...

Polyester-based clothing can pose a safety risk when exposed to heat or fire due to its flammable nature. The specific temperature at which polyester fabric becomes dangerous for humans can vary depending on several factors, including the thickness of the fabric, the presence of additional flammable substances, and the duration of exposure to heat.

Polyester has a "relatively low" ignition point compared to natural fibers. It can ignite at temperatures around 427 to 482 degrees Celsius (800-900 degrees Fahrenheit). Once ignited, polyester can melt and stick to the skin, causing severe burns. Additionally, burning polyester releases toxic fumes, which can be harmful if inhaled.

It's important to note that polyester fabric does not need to reach its ignition point to cause harm. Even at lower temperatures, such as from contact with a hot surface or open flame, polyester can melt and cause burns. The exact temperature at which polyester fabric melts can vary depending on the specific composition of the fabric, but it generally ranges from 250 to 300 degrees Celsius (482 to 572 degrees Fahrenheit).

To minimize the risk of burns and injuries, it is crucial to exercise caution when wearing polyester-based clothing around potential heat sources, such as fireplaces, stoves, or open flames. It is also advisable to follow safety guidelines and regulations regarding fire safety in various settings, including workplaces and public spaces.

Still curious, I asked Google, DuckDuckGo, and some other platforms, "What scenarios would humans be exposed to 250-300 degrees celsius?"

The result was: "Temperatures in the range of 250 to 300 degrees Celsius (482 to 572 degrees Fahrenheit) are quite high and generally not encountered in everyday situations or environments. However, there are certain scenarios where such temperatures may be present. Here are a few examples:

  1. Industrial Settings: Certain industrial processes, such as metalworking, glass manufacturing, or chemical production, involve working with high temperatures. Furnaces, kilns, ovens, and other equipment used in these industries can reach temperatures within the specified range.

  2. Laboratory Experiments: In research laboratories, experiments involving heat sources, such as Bunsen burners, crucibles, or specialized heating devices, can generate temperatures in the range of 250 to 300 degrees Celsius.

  3. **Cooking and Baking: Domestic and commercial cooking appliances, such as ovens and grills, can reach high temperatures. While the typical cooking temperature range is lower, prolonged exposure or accidents involving direct contact with heating elements or extremely hot surfaces may potentially reach the specified temperature range.

  4. Fire Accidents: In the unfortunate event of a fire, temperatures can rise significantly. While the ambient temperature in a room during a fire may not reach 250 to 300 degrees Celsius, localized areas, such as close to open flames or in direct contact with intense heat sources, can reach such temperatures.

To summize, with the exception of cooking, temperatures in the range of 250 to 300 degrees Celsius are typically encountered in specific industrial, laboratory, or emergency situations rather than in everyday life. This is where my rabbit hole adventure ended. I didn't feel the need to press on any further.

After going on this adventure, I have come to the conclusion that unless you're planning a vacation to an active volcano, are working in an industrial setting or playing with fire, you're probably going to be okay wearing polyester-based clothing. We can enjoy the summer-weather and rest easy about our day-to-day things like going to the gym, exercising, chilling and running errands.


Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this post or found it helpful in any way, consider subbing to the blog/newsletter. It's full of healthy tips, tricks, environmental stuff and all things Arcadia & friends.

What do you think? If you would like to discuss this topic further, let me know in the comments! Please take care of yourself and we'll see you in the next one.

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