Can Your Clothes Give You Cancer?

Can Your Clothes Give You Cancer? about undefined

A Thousand Issues

Before we get to today’s story, I want to mention an important milestone: This is issue #1000 of Cancer Defeated. We started publishing this newsletter in late 2009 – it came out once a week in those days – and now a bit more than ten years later we’ve reached a thousand issues.

I’m grateful to the hearty souls who have been with us for years. A few of you go all the way back to the beginning. I give my sincere thanks to all our readers for your support.

Cancer Defeated has a simple mission: We seek to publish solutions that will work, based on the evidence. We don’t care about anyone’s sacred cows – alternative or conventional. We let you know how good the evidence is, and for some famous cancer advice the evidence actually isn’t very good at all – while there are nearly unknown solutions that could save your life.

I especially want to thank our amazing team of writers who actually do most of the work: Susan Clark, Carl Lowe, Carol Parks, Mindy McHorse, Michael Sellar and Andrew Scholberg. This publication would not be possible without them.

Can Your Clothes Give You Cancer?

Modern living is all about convenience, and that begins with the clothes on your back. Don’t have time to iron? Buy wrinkle-free clothes. Fed up with tomato sauce stains? Get stain-resistant shirts. Hate raindrops on your shoulders? Wear a waterproof jacket.

This all sounds logical… until you consider that a shocking percentage of the clothes with those benefits are overloaded with cancer-causing chemicals that expose you to heavy toxic loads.

This may not be the biggest cancer risk you face, but it’s worth worrying about – and pretty easy to avoid.

All by themselves, your clothes are not likely to kill you. But added to all the other toxins in our lives, they pose a problem. Modern clothing is steeped in appalling levels of chemical compounds, many of which have been linked to cancer and other health problems.

Take the current craze over workout clothes. I think the official term is “athleisure,” a dreadful new word to describe clothing that’s sleek and form-fitting enough for exercise, but comfortable and acceptable for most public outings.

A lot of these workout clothes are billed as “moisture-wicking,” but what that really means is the possible presence of PFAS, short for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances.

The health danger of “forever chemicals” 

PFAS were popular in the 1940s when manufacturing companies realized these chemicals were heat resistant, stain resistant, water resistant, and grease resistant. Unfortunately, they’re also biodegradable-resistant. Nicknamed “forever chemicals,” PFAS can hang around in the earth for thousands of years.

Most PFAS have been phased out of use in most manufacturing industries, but they’re still used in leather and textiles. If you own clothing with a label that reads “Teflon” or “Gore-Tex,” that may mean PFAS are present. Besides athletic wear, these chemicals are found in outdoor gear and water-resistant jackets.

Loads of health issues have been linked to PFAS exposure, including kidney cancer, testicular cancer, and liver damage.

Officially, humans are more likely to be exposed to PFAS through contaminated water or food than through clothing. But skin contact is also a source of exposure, even if it is a “minor” source, as stated by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

But chemical-heavy clothing can affect you even if you’re not wearing it. Ever notice that “new clothes” smell after you buy something from a store? That’s PFAS-laced dust from the clothing, and if you can smell it, you’re possibly breathing in those chemicals.

The evil twin to PFAS 

Unfortunately, PFAS aren’t the only problem. Their co-conspirator in wrecking health is a class of substances known as phthalates, which are the things that make plastic both durable and flexible. Phthalates are used heavily in manufacturing.

In 2008, a federal ban on phthalates in children’s products and toys was instituted by Congress, but the laws and regulations have not protected our children like they were supposed to. Phthalates are still found in jeans, raincoats, and fake leather.

And in 2012, the environmental organization Greenpeace detected phthalates in 31 different pieces of children’s clothing out of a sample size of 140, usually children’s size 6-7 in the United States. In some cases, phthalates made up an incredible 38 percent of the weight of the clothing.

This is not good when you consider that phthalates have been linked to asthma, ADHD, diabetes, breast cancer, and infertility problems. But they pose the most significant risk to children who are more likely to put phthalate-heavy clothing in their mouths.

“New clothes” smell that doesn’t wash out 

Another source of the “new clothes” smell you’re probably familiar with is none other than formaldehyde. It’s most likely to be used in clothing billed as wrinkle-free, antistatic, or stain-resistant.

Formaldehyde is a colorless gas, often associated with the embalming process. That’s because the stuff endures over time. And when it comes to clothing, that means you can’t just wash it out with detergent or water.

Inhaling formaldehyde has been linked to asthma, nausea, and cancer. Skin contact is known to cause dermatitis in those allergic to the chemical (which means itchy, dry, and rash-stricken skin).

“Clothing minimalism” 

This all sounds pretty bad – because it’s not like we have the option to go without clothing. But there are some smart choices you can make which will limit your exposure to these chemicals and decrease your likelihood of developing cancer or other diseases.

First, just buy less clothing. New seasons and trendy fashions may be enticing, but good health is more important. Your old clothes are safer because many of the chemicals have been washed out or have outgassed (evaporated) of their own accord.

The more new clothes you buy, the more potential chemicals you’ll bring home to your closet. If you must buy new clothes, never wear them immediately; always wash them first.

Second, buy smarter: Used or organic. When you absolutely do need new clothes, shop for organic brands made without any chemicals. Do an internet search for what’s available in your area; several organic clothing shops cater to smaller geographic regions.

To find used clothing, shop garage sales, eBay or (billed as the world’s largest online consignment store.) Again: The benefit is that the clothes have often been washed enough times to get rid of the chemicals (sadly, that means they’re in our waterways, but that’s an article for a different day).

Another tactic is to take better care of the clothes you have. Instead of putting them in the dryer, hang them up; they’ll last longer. Learn how to mend a tear or iron on a patch. You’ll thank yourself in the end when your clothes are comfortable, wearable, and chemical-free.

Best regards,

Lee Euler,


  1. “7 toxic chemicals hiding in your waterproof, stain-resistant, and wrinkle-free clothes.” By Aria Bendix for Business Insider, 11 July 2019.
  2. “Formaldehyde in Textiles.” From the United States Government Accountability Office, August 2010.
  3. “Why You Should Watch Out For These 5 Gnarly Chemicals In Your Clothing.” By Jenna Amatulli for HuffPost, 28 October 2016.

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