We’ve all heard we are what we wear. But we’re also what we snuggle in, sleep on, and pat ourselves dry with. After all, a sustainable lifestyle means more than switching off the lights when leaving a room or occasionally cycling to work. It also extends to what materials we surround ourselves with, which in turn can reduce our environmental impact. So, read on as we unravel the all-natural beauty of sustainable textiles and fabric choices.
Understanding eco-friendly fabrics
Synthetic fabrics are woven from fibers manufactured from petroleum-based polymers, which result in such artificial materials as polyester and nylon. Not biodegradable. Not renewable. And definitely not natural. So, if you want to live more sustainably, start by scanning your closets, blanket boxes, and wardrobes.
Whether the clothes you slip on or the towels and bedding you use daily, seek out cotton, linen, or wool alternatives. And while fabrics that blend natural and synthetic materials may sound like an improvement, they don’t biodegrade like all-natural fabrics. Here are a few of the best options out there:
Instead of relying on synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, this cotton variant employs natural cultivation methods. The production of organic cotton also consumes much less water than regular cotton, making it a fantastic, sustainable fabric choice.
Hemp, a resilient plant that creates a robust fabric with a lower environmental footprint, is an incredibly eco-friendly fabric. Because it requires minimal water, pesticides, and synthetic fertilizers, it’s an ideal, sustainable alternative to synthetic materials.
Bamboo is a fast-growing, highly-renewable resource. However, be mindful of how the fabric was manufactured. That’s because bamboo material is usually a type of rayon processed using environmentally harmful chemicals. So, if you do opt for bamboo fabric, look for the kind that is certified chemical-free.
Tencel is a man-made fiber that hails from the eucalyptus tree. A leader in closed-loop production, Tencel is one of the most breathable and moisture-wicking materials around, making it a perfect eco-friendly choice for luxury bedding and apparel. Like bamboo though, it's important to ensure that the eucalyptus is sourced sustainably.
Popular in summer for its natural, lightweight feel, linen comes from the flax plant, which needs very little water, even compared to other natural fabrics. Plus, flax plants are renewable and can thrive in poor soil conditions.
In line with a circular economy, recycled fabrics give new life to discarded materials. Repurposed polyester, nylon, and other synthetic and natural fibers reduce the demand for new materials while keeping waste out of landfills and oceans.
How to weave sustainability into your fabric choices
When upgrading to sustainable fabric alternatives, avoid companies that greenwash and instead keep your eye out for organic fabrics and mindful production practices. How so? Glad you asked.
Look for certifications
Small businesses may not be able to attain these certifications, but when shopping large brands, keep an eye out for reputable certifications. Labels like GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) and OEKO-TEX Standard 100 indicate the fabric meets specific environmental and social criteria, ensuring a higher level of sustainability.
Consider recycled fabrics
Choose fabrics made from recycled materials. Promisingly, many brands are embracing this movement, so expect to see more recycled fabrics on more racks. Plus, recycling materials diverts clothing waste from landfills and oceans.
Look for mindful dyeing and printing processes
The fashion industry is one of the largest consumers of harsh chemicals — from pesticides used in cotton farming to dyes and finishes applied to fabrics. To shop for your wardrobe more responsibly, look for fabrics dyed using eco-friendly, low-impact, or natural dyes. You can easily avoid harsh chemicals if you look for certifications like Bluesign. This label ensures that the production process, including dyeing and printing, meets strict environmental and safety standards.
Avoid microfiber pollution
As you may know, synthetic fabrics produce microplastics. Every time we wash synthetic materials like polyester or nylon, these tiny plastic fibers enter our global waterways and oceans. Some estimates suggest up to 700,000 microfibers can be released in a single laundry load. So, consider using a washing bag or alternatives like wool dryer balls to help capture these microfibers before they damage the environment.
Purchase with longevity and durability in mind
Part of sustainable living is purchasing items that last. In addition to seeking brands known for quality, choose handmade over hastily-made factory garments.
A closer look at sustainable fabric labels
The fashion industry’s rapid turnover of trends — commonly referred to as fast fashion – has led to a staggering amount of textile waste as cheap, disposable garments flood the market, enticing consumers to buy more. So, making conscious fabric choices is essential. When making purchases, keep an eye out for the following labels:
The GOTS label means stringent criteria for organic content, environmental impact, and social responsibility throughout production.
Fair Trade Certified
The Fair Trade Certified label signifies fair labor conditions, ensuring workers receive fair wages and ethical treatment. You’ll see this one with brands like Patagonia, Pact, and Athleta.
OEKO-TEX Standard 100
If you see this label on a tag, it means the fabric has been tested for harmful substances and is safe for human health. This means the materials were sustainably produced and not injected with harmful dyes.
How to care for your sustainable fabrics
Of course, once you’ve added eco-conscious fabrics to your home, you’ll want to care for them sustainably. In addition to using a washing bag, consider the following practices:
Cold water: Despite popular belief, hot water does not mean cleaner. It just consumes more energy. So, go cold, and in doing so, ensure your fabrics last longer.
Choose eco-friendly detergents: SaltyLama’s laundry detergent sheets are just as safe for the environment as for people and animals. Because they are plant-based, they contain no phosphates, which can create algae blooms or surfactants, which are toxic to animal life. No dyes, formaldehyde, or brighteners, either. And because the sheets are hypoallergenic, they are perfect for people with allergies or sensitive skin.
Hand wash when possible: Hand washing is gentle and conserves water for delicate fabrics.
Wash full loads: Wait until you have a whole load of laundry before running the washing machine to maximize water and energy efficiency.
And if you want more on how to wash your bedding for a fresh slumber, we have the details. Remember, your fabric choices matter. By embracing eco-conscious materials with reputable certifications and adopting responsible care practices, you can help contribute to a more sustainable fashion and fabric ecosystem.