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Organic baby clothes - are they worth it?

This blog post was reviewed by Ania Levina, PhD
Founder of Leleki. PhD in Organic Chemistry from Harvard University.

Author: Team Leleki

Aug 11, 2021

Organic baby clothes sound fancy, but what does it actually mean for clothes to be organic and are they really worth it? Unlike food or body products, clothes don't come with a more detailed table of contents... should they?

The organic clothing trend has been gaining momentum over the last decades, in large part due to increased attention to the toxic chemicals found in some fabrics. One of the best-known examples is the discovery in 1970s that Tris, a flame retardant used in children’s pajamas, was shown to be mutagenic (i.e., gene altering). As a result of this finding, its use in baby clothing was promptly prohibited by the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission [1, 2]. Despite the move to eliminate Tris from baby clothes more than 40 years ago, other toxic chemicals continue to be used in fabrics for children, as highlighted in a recent NewYork Times article [3].

Do organic fabrics matter for baby clothing? In order to address this issue, we broke it down into three questions below and conducted a detailed scientific literature research to find answers for you:  

  1. Can there really be potentially harmful chemicals in baby clothes?
  2. Can babies get exposed to non-negligible amounts of chemicals through contact with clothing?
  3. Does exposure to chemicals in clothing pose a potential health risk to babies?

1. Can there really be potentially harmful chemicals in baby clothes?

In short, the answer is “yes.” The clothing industry is loosely regulated and lacks a unifying control body, like the FDA. The process of manufacturing clothing is complex: from raw material to production to storage, the majority of fibers used in clothes are treated with a long list of chemicals [4,5], which can remain in clothing through its journey to store shelves and eventually your home. A series of independent investigations, including ones by Greenpeace [6], by the Swedish government [7], and by independent university research laboratories across the world [8-11] found a broad range of hazardous chemicals in baby clothing across different origins of manufacturing, brands, retailers, and geographies. Research by the University of Stockholm found that several substances related to health risks make it to the clothes we buy and that even after washing, some of these substances remained to a high degree in the clothes, becoming a potential source of long-term dermal exposure [12].

2. Can babies get exposed to non-negligible amounts of chemicals through contact with clothing?

Here again, the answer is “yes.” The absorption of chemicals from clothes through skin has been shown to be a meaningful pathway for human exposure to a wide range of chemicals, including ones known to be toxic [13-16]. Moreover, babies are even more susceptible to absorption of substances from clothing than adults, because their skin is thinner, and the ratio of skin surface area to body weight is relatively high for babies vs adults [17].

3. Does exposure to chemicals in clothing pose a potential health risk to babies?

While more research is needed to answer this question with more precision, current evidence indicates that the answer is “yes, to some extent.” The two types of health risks posed by exposure to chemicals in textiles are (A) long-term health effects (e.g., from carcinogenic compounds or endocrine disruptors) and (B) contact allergies. While some reports suggest that long-term health effects in babies due to chemicals in clothes are unlikely [18], not enough studies have been conducted to draw a clear conclusion [19, 20]. The case of allergic contact dermatitis is somewhat clearer. Despite once being considered rare in children, the number of cases of allergic contact dermatitis among babies has been growing [21, 22]. However, the full extent of contact dermatitis in children is still difficult to assess and has been poorly investigated [23], in part due to the difficulty [24] and potential delay [25] of the diagnosis. 

What does the ‘organic’ label on clothing mean?

Below we dive into what 'organic' means and doesn't mean, why a certification makes a difference when it comes to baby clothes, and some important considerations when deciding whether to go with organic or not (because let's be honest, organic doesn't always come cheap!).  

The 'organic' label on clothing means that (A) no pesticides were used during the farming stage of the fabric and (B) clothes are made from natural fabrics, such as cotton, wool, silk. However, organic clothes do not need to contain 100% organic textiles [26] and can contain some synthetic materials like polyester, nylon, spandex, and acrylic fibers.

The ‘organic’ label does not address the presence of chemicals introduced during manufacturing. That means that even the purest organic cotton can turn into a final product manufactured with harsh chemicals through bleaching, dying, or the introduction of wrinkle resistant or water-repellent properties, etc.

How to avoid harsh chemicals in your baby's clothes?

Look for Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certification on baby clothes you buy. The GOTS certification considers both fiber source and every step of production from farm to the finished baby clothes on store shelves [27].

What GOTS certification addresses:

  • The GOTS certification covers the processing, manufacturing, packaging, labelling, trading and distribution of all textiles made from at least 70% certified organic fibers
  • GOTS requires any chemical inputs to meet basic requirements on toxicity and biodegradability. Raw materials, intermediates, final textile products, as well as accessories must meet stringent limits regarding unwanted residues
  • Decreased threat to the environment through clear requirements for environmental policies and stringent record-keeping on use of chemicals, energy, water consumption and wastewater treatment
  • Fair working conditions and fair wages

So, are organic and GOTS-certified baby clothes worth it?

As with any product for YOUR baby, the decision is YOURS.

Don’t feel pressured to go with the popular choice. Instead, understand what you’re deciding between.

Key things to think about when choosing between GOTS-certified vs organic vs regular baby clothes:

1. Are you concerned with your baby’s potential exposure to toxic chemicals?

  • If yes, go with GOTS-certified. Simply ‘organic’ doesn’t necessarily address toxic chemical additions during manufacturing and beyond
  • Always wash new baby clothing with non-toxic baby laundry detergent before first use

2. Are you willing to / can you pay the premium on certified organic clothes?

  • If no, consider buying pre-loved. Remember to check what laundry detergents were used to clean them
  • Take advantage of sales
  • You can also consider buying fewer pieces… babies outgrow clothes very quickly anyway

Shop Leleki's curated selection

Check out our curated selection of the highest-quality organic baby clothes and accessories.

How is Leleki helping parents?

We carefully curate products and standardize product details so you can easily choose what is important for you - eg, certification, eco-friendliness, and types of ingredients. Enjoy shopping with Leleki!





























Leleki does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The resources on our website are provided for informational purposes only. You should always consult with your care provider / a healthcare professional if you have any questions or concerns.