There is huge hype surrounding organic cotton. I’ve gotten plenty of mommy judgment where my clothing choices are concerned. Apparently they aren’t “good enough” for my baby. But, should I fork over $35 bucks for an organic cotton onesie? Will it really make that much of a difference to my baby’s health and well-being? Apparently it’s non-toxic. But, why is that good or bad if it’s not something you eat and just something you wear?
Think about it for a minute. Our skin is the largest organ we have. It has large pores that not only release toxins, sweat and oils, our pores also absorb things as well. The theory is that regular old conventional cotton contains pesticides, herbicides and other harsh toxic chemicals that will be absorbed into your skin, possibly having a negative impact on your health. How far-fetched is this idea?
In theory, it makes sense. Doctors request that you not use retinal creams while pregnant or breastfeeding because it can be toxic to the baby. Essential oils, topical medications and creams, deodorant, etc., are all absorbed through the skin. Obviously, it’s one of the many ways our bodies react to our surroundings. So it would make sense that pesticides, herbicides and an other chemicals in conventionally farmed cotton could potentially be absorbed into your skin. But again, is the threat really real? Is this a concern that will affect our lives enough for the hefty price tag that comes along with it? Well, I researched the heck out of this subject and this is what I found:
Apparently, conventionally farmed cotton uses 16% of the pesticides globally (eek!) With the use of pesticides and herbicides at this level, the poison has killed cotton farmers and has been documented to seep into groundwater and subsequently into our drinking water. Imagine how much of those toxins are left on the plant, than processed into the fibers themselves.
Conventionally farmed cotton is also a water intensive plant. We use a ton of drinking water on a textile rather than on actual food or water for those who would potentially need it. Organic cotton is not any better with water usage, so this is more of a negative for BOTH.
Additionally, once the cotton has been picked, it then travels through a very harsh processing period of bleaching and treatment. The chemicals placed into the fabric just keep compiling. Then, add in any chemical dyeing and you are presented with a finalized version of your favorite t-shirt.
So What About Organic Cotton?
So, it is worth it to buy organic cotton? How “processed” is organic cotton? The truth of the matter is that organic cotton really just relates to how it is farmed. And, although it is farmed with no pesticides or herbicides, the processing of the cotton afterwards is not always organic. You would have to do research on specific brands to find out how organic the product really is. Every organic step will up the cost of the fabric before it finally reaches the store.
One thing to consider is that a lot of the chemicals used in the farming and processing of cotton can actually be washed out prior to use! Using a hot vinegar soak, and then washing with a chemical free detergent, you can take out most of the harmful chemicals. Although, not all will come out, maybe enough that the threat to your health is so minuscule, you can stop feeling guilty about spending huge amounts of money on organic cotton.
At this point, you have to make a decision, is paying triple, quadruple or even 10 times the cost of conventional cotton worth it? From the moment you buy the organic fabric, it’s really only going to make a difference if you are already putting non-toxic, all organic products in contact with your skin. That means: laundry detergent, lotions, soaps, shampoos, fragrances, etc. Also, throw blankets and fabric furniture, sheets and the like will need to be considered.
You can make the argument that buying organic saves the environment, I would not disagree. However, most people I have met who buy organic cotton, do so because they believe it’s better for their skin or their children’s skin. Yet, I have witnessed some of these people still choosing to use chemically ridden soaps, fragrances, and the like. So unless you are already using all of those chemically free products, the difference in organic cotton is tiny at best.
More so, there really has been little to no evidence, aside from conjecture, that organic cotton is actually healthier for you that conventional cotton. The decision is really up to you on whether or not if makes sense to fork over that kind of money.
My Opinion on Buying Organic Cotton
Unless you have a lot of money to spend on clothing, organic cotton is really not worth the price tag. But what about the environment, you ask? Buy used clothing! Seriously, I know some people who are vehemently against shopping for secondhand clothing but humans through away TONS of clothing each year. Please see the graph below!
There is really no excuse for this type of waste. Imagine how much trash we would save by buying used, repurposing stuff we have already purchased and recycling what can’t be donated.
Buying used means you are decreasing the demand for the farming of this crop in the first place. This decreases pesticide and herbicide usage, along with water usage. Used clothes are usually worn down a bit more, which means soaking them in vinegar and using a chemical free detergent will have a better result in removing any unwanted chemicals. If the point of buying organic is to save the world, then recycling clothing is the most realistic and easiest way to accomplish that goal.
So where do you donate or recycle? You can find a local recycling location HERE.
It’s up to you though. If organic cotton is in your budget, buy away! If not, recycle, up-cycle and reuse cotton textiles. This will help curb the demand and hopefully the effect this has on our environment. I mean, used clothing is cheaper anyway!