Multiple Chemical Sensitivity and Fabric Dyes

Multiple Chemical Sensitivities may result from garment finishes and dyes found in most fabrics. These sensitivities can range from runny nose, itchy eyes, headache, skin rashes, nausea, fatigue, poor concentration, breathing, aching joints and muscles, dizziness, and seizures. MCS symptoms in children include learning disabilities, rashes, and skin irritation, dark circles under the eyes, food intolerance, and hyperactivity. What causes these reactions? Some of the reactions may be a result of garment finishing or the dye fixative used to bond the dye to the fabric.

Conventional dye and dye fixatives often contain heavy metals and may also use toxic chemicals for the dye process. Some of the chemicals found in the dyeing process are dioxin, formaldehyde, azo dyes and heavy metals such as alum, chromium, copper, iron, and tin. Some of these chemicals are carcinogenic or are suspected to be a carcinogen. Not only are these chemicals a health risk but also cause damage to our environment by polluting the water.

As we move forward in the expanding industry of organics, there is a transition both in the manufacturing and marketplace for dyed clothing. There are different options of clothing dyes on the market today for organic clothing such as undyed clothing, clay dyes, natural dyes, and low-impact, fiber reactive dyes.

Undyed – Organically grown cotton strains grows naturally in shades of natural greens, beiges, browns and blues commonly know as Foxfibre. Natural color wools and alpaca are also a great choice.

Clay Dyes – Clay dyes eliminate the need for synthetic petrochemicals and salt. These dyes use the minerals and irons found naturally in the earth. This process of dyeing can be dated back to ancient civilization.

Natural Dyes – “Contrary to popular opinion, natural dyes are often neither safer nor more ecologically sound than synthetic dyes. They are less permanent, more difficult to apply, wash out more easily, and often involve the use of highly toxic mordants as stated by Paula Burch, PhD. Dr.Burch alss states, “Some natural dyes, such as the hematein derived from logwood, are themselves significantly poisonous. Of course, the color possibilities are far more limited; the color of any natural dye may be easily copied by mixing synthetic dyes. However, some mordants are not very toxic, and the idea of natural dyestuffs is aesthetically pleasing.”

Low-Impact, Fiber-Reactive Dye – This is the most permanent of all dye types and the dye most commonly used by organic clothing manufacturers. Some fiber-reactive dyes do not require a mordant because the chemical will actually form a covalent bond with the cellulose or protein molecule. This dye process does use chemicals, but not the use of mordants or other known toxic substances. Low impact dyes have a lower absorption rate, which creates less waste water runoff.

Although this method still uses chemicals it is considered an eco-friendly option and not as harmful to the environment.

Most individuals with a small degree of chemical sensitivity can wear organic clothing with a low impact or fiber-reactive dye. However, anyone suffering or that reacts to fabric dyes should consider undyed, natural color or color-grown fabrics.

Obviously some of these dyeing techniques are grey in terms of setting standards for organic clothing, but these are all small steps towards a large movement in the organic industry. As further study and industry advancement take place we are sure to enter into more ecologically safe dyes with a rainbow of colors.