Like most other things, the integrity of textiles is changing as increased pressure is placed on mills that manufacture petroleum-based fabrics like polyester. There are issues with toxic chemicals and general safety that everyone needs to be aware of, especially the end consumer who is purchasing the bed linens, draperies, upholstered furnishings, and so on.
The easiest solution is to purchase fabrics from 100% natural fibres: silk, linen, cotton, and wool.
|Silk||Silk Worm||Best for drapery; not great for upholstery from a practical perspective, though acceptable for soft furnishings; requires a lining to protect the fabric from sunlight, etc.|
|Cotton||Cotton Seed||Bedding, draperies, child friendly spaces – it is casual and easy to maintain.|
|Wool||Sheep / Goats / Rabbits||Becoming more popular and versatile, from light-weight to heavier, felted versions; great for draperies and upholstery.|
|Linen||Flax Plant||Most versatile of natural fabrics – from sheers to bedding to upholstery to draperies.|
For those not familiar with the term “carbon footprint,” it is the pressure placed on the earth, from extraction to delivery.
It also includes things like transportation and other resources used along the way before it is delivered to the end-user – you. As a point of comparison, let’s look at two (2) identical (in terms of shape and size) upholstered sofas, one of which is upholstered in polyester and the other in cotton.
- The average square yard of polyester has ten – fifteen (10-15) pounds of chemicals added from extraction to delivery.
- The cotton has three – four (3-4) pounds of added chemicals per square yard.
If you think you can compromise and use a poly-cotton blend, for example, think again. Blended natural/synthetic products are the worst environmental offenders and will not biodegrade. Instead of the typical 10-15 pounds for a pure polyester, you’re looking at an average of twenty – thirty (20-30) pounds of added chemicals with a blended fabric.The chemicals added, it should be noted, are often carcinogenic in nature.) It is for that reason that many mills have stopped producing hybrid fabrics, particularly within Europe, where they are considered to be fifteen (15) years ahead of North American mills.
Natural fabrics tend to be more colour fast – they dye easily and are better at maintaining their colourants and not bleeding. The colour variation between dye-lots is also more consistent, with only 3-8%. However, they are not great when placed in direct hot sun, which will naturally decompose the fabric. In fairness, it is more the heat than the sun, so a reflective window film that transmits light but minimizes and/or blocks heat transmission will help to prevent this problem.
Synthetic fabrics generally begin releasing chemical compounds into their environment at about 78°F. Silk, on the other hand, typically requires temperatures of 110°F or greater. Linen is even more resilient. Another benefit of using linen or wool is that both naturally absorb bacteria and moisture, preventing any issues with mildew. That said, linen is known to shrink and stretch, so it is strongly recommended that you use a stable header for draperies, for example.
If you would prefer to use more eco-friendly (and human-friendly) products, look for the Oeko-Tex® label (at right). Oeko-Tex® aims to provide “confidence in textiles” by testing all types of fabrics used for everything from clothing to upholstery. Certified materials are deemed to pose “no risk whatsoever to health.”