How to Read a Label

“It’s a habit of mine now, noticing, labels, logos, shoes” – Michael Jordan

Reading Label and Beyond

Michael Jordan might look at the labels for a different purpose but have you ever considered taking a clothing label seriously? Clothing labels are not as transparent as food labels. Food labels give nutrient information, calories and fat, daily value, serving size, and fiber. Food labels also provide a foot note with information on Sodium, cholesterol, total carbohydrates, saturated fats etc. That’s a good amount of information on the label.

Let us see what clothing label tells and what it does not. Below is the information that can be found on clothing label:

  1. Brand name
  2. Country of origin
  3. Registered Identification Number (RN#): R N number is issued by U. S. Federal Trade Commission for a business residing in U.S. Manufacturer and importer can be tracked on U.S. Federal Trade Commission website with a R. N. number.
  4. Type of fabric: In the U. S. the generic names of all fibers present in the amount of five percent or more of the total fiber weight must be provided on the label.
  5. Care Instructions: A satisfactory method of care necessary for the ordinary use of the garment. The label must also provide warnings against the use of any method which the consumer can use that would harm the product. care symbols

Click here to learn how to read care label

Above stated information is necessary for all manufacturers and importers to label on every garment, as per the rules by Federal Trade Commission.

6) Many garments have additional hang tags with important information about the fabric finishes and various attributes the garment carries.

Labels and tags (Point 4 and 6)  provide important information, wherein consumer can detect toxin levels in the garments.

The information below will help to read the label and beyond:

If the garment is made with 100% natural fiber (plants and animal fibers), it would be listed with names given below:

100% – Cotton, Linen, Silk, Wool (Lambswool, Cashmere, Mohair, Angora, Camel hair, Alpaca), Hemp, Jute (in case of carpets).

Look for “100%”. 100% means there is no other synthetic fiber mixed. Other natural fibers are: Abaca, Coir, Ramie, Sisal.

If the garment is made with Synthetic fiber (chemically produced fibers), it would be listed with the names given below:

100% – Polyester, Microfiber, Acrylic, Nylon, Elastane(spandex), Lyocell, Rayon, Acetate, Polyamide, Modacrylic.

Many garment fibers are blended, say 50% cotton 50% polyester. This means the garment contains 50% synthetic fiber (or as specified).

If you find terms “Resistance”, “Repellent” or “Retardant”  mentioned on the fancy tags, with or without diagrams, means that particular garment is quoted with chemicals (chances are toxic) to resist water, stain, soil etc. Permanent press, wrinkle resistance are other danger areas to avoid.  Many of the stain resistant and wrinkle-free fabrics are treated with perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs), like Teflon, that are harmful for the skin.

My recommendation is to avoid clothes with harmful chemical coating. Cotton has a natural property of water absorbency. Cotton is used by the medical industry because of its natural absorbency. We do not want our skin to inhale harmful chemicals just to avoid our shirt to get wet from a spill or a stain.

Keep in mind that many fabrics (including natural fibers) undergo significant processing that often involves detergents, synthetic dyes, formaldehyde to prevent shrinkage, volatile organic compounds, dioxin-producing bleach, chemical fabric softeners.

All fabrics, including organic fabric, are treated with chemicals at some point during processing. Still, some choices are better than others. In general, it is beneficial to use natural fibers, they are safer. A step further to wear safe is to look for 100% organic cotton clothing. They are the safest of all available clothing. 100% organic cotton clothing may be processed to some extent, still they are often a better choice than synthetics or non-organic cotton.

Many certifications, such as the new Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and Oeko-Tex, restricts the toxic chemicals. GOTS restricts amine releasing AZO dyes and disperse dyes (must be <30 mg/kg); chromium, cobalt, copper, nickel, mercury, lead, antimony and arsenic are all restricted. Look for GOTS and Oeko-Tex symbols on clothing tags.

Listed below are most toxic (from the top) to safest level (at the bottom) of clothes (#1 is worst and #12 is best):

  1. All synthetic fiber made clothes with “special” finishes (wrinkle resistance, stain resistance etc., even natural fibers with these finishes are bad)
  2. All synthetic mix fibers (50% polyester 50% nylon)
  3. All 100% synthetic clothes recommending dry cleaning (chemical dry cleaning uses harmful chemicals)
  4. All 100% synthetic fiber made clothes (includes sports and fitness clothes)
  5. Clothes blended with low cotton percentage. Like 80% polyester (or any other synthetic fiber) and 20% cotton (or any natural fibers)
  6. Clothes with synthetic fiber lining.  Synthetic linings will touch your skin
  7. Clothes with lower percentage of synthetic and higher percentage of cotton, like 80% cotton and 20% polyester, no finishes
  8. 100% cotton made clothes, no finishes.
  9. 100% cotton made clothes with symbols like GOTS or Oeko-Tex (they restrict harmful chemicals in dyes and chemicals.
  10. 100% Organic cotton clothes or natural fibers with light colors, no finishes
  11. 100% Organic cotton clothes or natural fibers with GOTS GOTS or Oeko-Tex symbols Oko-Tex
  12. 100% Organic cotton clothes undyed. This category clothes will have no synthetic dyes and least chemically processed. This is the safest choice.

Organic food, pure water, and natural or organic clothing can work together to enhance your well being and help live a healthier life. Reducing toxic load may seem like an overwhelming task. Just like any other change, this change can also be made step by step. Over time, there will be improvement in your own life and in the world around you. Change in the world begins with making simple changes in one’s life.


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