What’s in my clothes? Not these toxic substances.

When we started out, Samantha and I had no idea of how toxic the fashion business really is. In the two years we have been working at The Extra Smile, we have read and researched many articles and sources, and we have felt shocked, scared and angry while reading them. 

Then, when we applied for referencing by the French app Clearfashion, we learned about the health harzards of some toxic substances.

So, we did some more homework, and worked with our suppliers to ensure that Greenpeace’s list of harmful substances are banned from our production process. 

Below you can read why and how we ban them. 

1. Formaldehyde

Are you a fan of wrinkle-free clothing? Chances are, they contain formaldehyde.

Formaldehyde (or formalin), is a colourless, flammable chemical with a strong smell. It has been used since the 1920s as it allows for better saturation of dyes and inks, it reduces the risk of shrinking and mildew and it makes the fabric stain and crease-resistant. 

Formaldehyde is carcinogenic and causes respiratory problems and skin irritation. People and children suffering from allergies are especially susceptible to formaldehyde. It can cause sneezing, coughing and eye, nose and throat irritation. Formaldehyde can cause rashes and contact dermatitis.

It's also a serious concern for workers in the textile industry who are exposed to it while doing their jobs.

How do we ensure that formaldehyde isn’t used in our garments?

  • Our cotton fabrics are GOTS-certified, ensuring that no harmful chemicals are used in the dyeing process.
  • Our manufacturing workshops do not work with formaldehyde.
  • We produce in small batches and do not have a huge stock that is at risk of mildew. Hence, we do not need to use formaldehyde to protect our goods.

2. Azo dyes

The European Union prohibits the use of azo dyes containing aryl amines. Hence, we don’t use them in any of our garments.

Azo dyes are often used in the colouring process of textiles and leather. They are very common and popular as they are able to dye the cloth at a lower temperature than azo-free dyes. They also offer a wider range of colours, allowing for brighter clothing, which will not run in the wash. 

Azo dyes have been linked to bladder and liver cancer as they find their way into our bodies through dermal absorption. For example, if you wear a t-shirt for a day that is created with azo-dyes, it will sit on your skin for many hours, and the azo-dyes will slowly be absorbed into your skin. 

Also, azo dyes do not degrade under natural environmental conditions. When wastewater is released from the factory where the fabric is dyed, it will bio-accumulate in the environment, affecting the entirety of the ecosystem: it contaminates the drinking water for humans and animals, affects farming, fishing, and the tourism and recreation industries.

How do we ensure that our clothing is azo-free?

  • We only use cotton that was coloured using azo-free dyes. They are GOTS-certified, which also guarantees the quality and durability of our colours.
  • For future garment development (e.g. alpaca), we thoroughly examine the dyeing process, and opt for the natural colours of the fibers.

3. APEOs

APEOs (or alkylphenol ethoxylates, alkyphenols, alkylphenyls) have been used for over 50 years in a wide variety of products. In the textile and leather industry, they are used in detergents and chemical surface-active agents (scouring, coating or waterproofing), in printing pastes and adhesives, and in dyeing. 

APEOs are everywhere: not only in plenty of products and garments, but also in surface waters, sewage, the atmosphere, aquatic organisms, and in food products. They are found in our blood, urine, breast milk and the cord blood of newborns. To make things worse, they are slow to biodegrade and they tend to bioaccumulate, which means that organisms (like our bodies or the bodies of animals and fish), absorb APEOs at a faster rate than that at which they break it off. 

Scientists regard APEOs as serious environmental hazards that have hormone disruptive effects on both wildlife and humans, as they imitate estrogen and can cause precocious puberty and disrupt the reproductive system, leading to reduced sperm count in men, miscarriages or fetal growth defects.

The European Union restricts sales and use because of their toxicity, persistence, and the liability to bioaccumulate. 

How do we ensure that there are no APEOs in our garments?

  • The cotton we use is GOTS-certified, which ensures that all prohibited substances are excluded from the supply chain.
  • Before deciding on a final design of our garments, we carefully look for the most sustainable option. For example, we opted for embroidery of our Fair T-shirt, after discarting screen printing. No chemicals are used during the embroidery of our garments.
  • Before shipping our garments to our clients, or our storage rooms, they are not washed, nor sprayed. No chemicals are used during the manufacturing process.

4. Phtalates

Phthalates, often called plasticizers, are a group of chemicals used to make plastics more flexible and harder to break. They are used in thousands of products, such as PVC toys, adhesives, wallpaper, car seats, fragrance, cosmetics and raincoats.

Phtalates are also in the food we eat and in our bodies. They can damage the liver, kidneys, lungs, and reproductive system. Scientists link phthalates to asthma, ADHD, breast cancer, obesity, diabetes, low IQ, neurodevelopmental issues, behavioral issues, autism spectrum disorders, altered reproductive development and male fertility issues. 

How can we promise that there are no phtalates in our garments?

  • We do not add any fragrances to our garments during the manufacturing process, and neither do we add them before shipping them to our clients or our storage room.
  • The fabrics we use are free of plastic; we currently have no raincoats or plastic-coated garments in our collection.

5. PFCs

PFCs (or fluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons) are used in the finishing process of mainly outdoor garments to make them waterproof, stain repellent and heat resistent. They are also used in ski wax.

Overexposure to PFCs causes irritation of the skin and can affect the nervous system, the liver and disrupt the endocrine system, altering levels of growth and reproductive hormones.

In addition, they cause damage to the ozone layer and bioaccumulate in the environment.

How can we claim that PFCs are not in our garments?

  • We currently do not have any (outdoor) garments in our collection that are waterproof, stain repellent or heat resistant.
  • Whenever we will add outdoorgarments to our offering, we will be sure to respect the environmental legislation that bans the use of PFCs.

6. BFRs and CFRs 

BFRs and CFRs (or crominated and chlorinated flame retardants) are used to make textiles fire retardant. 

They contain compounds that are carcinogens, reproductive and neurological toxins and endocrine disruptors. Once these chemicals come into the human body, they bioaccumulate.

How can we claim that BFRs and CFRs are not in our garments?

  • None of our clothing is flame retardant.

7. Chlorobenzenes

Chlorobenzenes are commonly used in the dyeing process of polyester or to wash out grease from wool.

Chlorobenzenes can cause damages to the lungs, liver and kidneys. High exposure to these substances may affect the nervous system as well. HCB (hexachlorobezene) is a hormone disruptor and PCB (pentachlorobenzene) is toxic to aquatic life. 

How can we claim that chlorobenzenes are not used in our production process?

  • We do not use polyester in our collection.
  • The recycled polyester yarn that we use for sewing does not contain chlorobenzenes.
  • Once we will include alpaca and wool into our collection, we will strictly examine the washing process and make sure that chlorobenzenes are banned from the cleaning process.

8. Chlorinated solvents

Chlorinated solvents are a large family of chemical compounds that contain chlorine and are used in a variety of industrial processes. Some chlorinated solvents are heavily used in dry-cleaning.

The health hazards vary from chemical to chemical and mainly affect workers who are exposed to chlorinated solvents through inhalation and skin contact. Short-term side effects include dizziness, fatigue, headaches, and skin rashes. Long-term side effects include chronic skin problems, damage to the nervous system, kidneys, or liver. Some chlorinated solvents are also known to cause cancer, in both humans and animals.

How can we claim that we ban chlorinated solvents?

  • Our cotton is GOTS-certified, which means no harmful substances are used in the production process, including dyeing.
  • There is no dry-cleaning phase in our production process.

9. PCP


PCP (or pentachlorophenol) has been used as a herbicide, insecticide, fungicide, algaecide, and disinfectant. Some applications were in agricultural seeds, leather, rope and paper. Its use has declined due to its high toxicity and slow biodegradation. The EU banned the production of PCP-containing products in 1991.

Long-term exposure to low levels of PCP can cause damage to the liver, kidneys, blood, and nervous system. Studies in animals also suggest that the endocrine system and immune system can also be damaged following long-term exposure to low levels of PCP. All of these effects get worse as the level of exposure increases.

How can we claim that PCPs are not used in our production process?

  • Our cotton is GOTS-certified, which means no harmful substances are used in the production process, including dyeing.

10. Heavy metals

Heavy metals such as cadmium, lead, mercury and chromium are used to fixate colour pigments in fabric. This is especially true to fixate “natural” dyes, as these tend to wash out. 

Heavy metals are natural elements of our planet, however their industrial use contaminates our water, our soil and the air we breathe.

As they bioaccumulate in water, heavy metals go up the food chain and then bioaccumulate in our bodies over time. They are highly toxic, with irreversible effects including damage to the nervous system (lead and mercury) or the kidneys (cadmium). Cadmium is also known to cause cancer.

How can we claim that heavy metals are not used in our production process?

  • Our cotton is GOTS-certified, which means no harmful substances are used in the production process, including dyeing.
  • For future garment development (e.g. alpaca), we thoroughly examine the dyeing process.

11. SCCPs

SCCPs (or short chain chlorinated paraffins) are used in leather treatments and as flame retardants.

SCCPs are carcinogenic and bioaccumulate in humans and wildlife. They are toxic to aquatic organisms at low concentration. 

How can we claim that SCCPs are not in our garments?

  • None of our clothing is flame retardant.
  • We have no leather products in our collection.