Your Chemical Questions Answered by a Textile Chemist

Ever wonder about how Coyuchi cotton textiles are made? We accumulated your questions regarding chemicals in Coyuchi cotton textiles and asked a textile chemist to help us answer your questions in detail. We hope this provides more clarity into our production methods, but we also encourage you to keep asking us tough questions. We hold ourselves to the highest standard and are motivated by the fact that you (our customers) also value this too.

What chemicals are used to manufacture Coyuchi’s cotton products?

Coyuchi’s organic cotton textiles, which make up about 75% of our assortment, are made from organically grown cotton with no pesticides or GMO seeds.  

The organic cotton fabric is prepared for dyeing using hydrogen peroxide and soda ash, an everyday chemical used to soften water and create the alkaline conditions (greater than pH 7) that are needed to dye cotton. Chlorine bleach is never used.

Only low-impact reactive dyes are employed, and we never use dyes that contain heavy metals such as lead and chromium. Dyes that cause skin sensitivity or that can break down into hazardous components are also strictly forbidden.

Finally, chemicals that provide a functional benefit are also restricted. These include brominated flame-retardants, antimicrobials, wrinkle-free finishes containing formaldehyde, and stain-repellency finishes containing perfluorinated chemicals. 

What makes chemicals safe or nontoxic?

Everything is made of chemicals. Some chemicals, such as cleaning chemicals, are man-made, whereas others, such as glucose and oxygen, are natural. Both can be poisonous and the degree depends on several factors including:

-ŸŸHow the chemical gets into the body (through the skin, the lungs, etc.)

-The amount entering the body (everything in excess is poisonous—even water)

-The degree of toxicity, or poisoning strength, of the chemical

Thus, chemicals that are weakly toxic require large amounts to cause harm, while those that are strongly toxic chemicals can cause harm in small amounts.

Some chemicals are bad for human health and can cause illnesses and ailments such as cancer, asthma or skin rashes. Others are bad for the environment and can kill fish, cause algae blooms or persist in the environment for long periods of time. Coyuchi uses GOTS approved chemicals that take the toxicity of human and environmental health into account.

Why do some of your products smell?

Coyuchi is committed to doing only what is necessary during the manufacture of our textiles.

In the case of our natural colored cotton towels and sheets, that means they are not washed, bleached and dyed. These processes strip the cotton of its natural oils and also require the harshest chemicals and the hottest temperatures during manufacturing. Since we eliminate these processes in the production of our natural colored cotton, some of the natural smell of cotton remains on the product. This smell is completely safe and can be eliminated during home laundering.

The smell of our other products may be due to the softeners used in their manufacture. After fabric is dyed, the residual dye is washed off and rinsed with detergents and water. The last step in the manufacturing process is to use softeners to make the product soft, smooth and pleasing to touch. Some of these softeners may have a chemical smell. This smell also can be eliminated during home laundering.

What chemicals are used during dyeing? Are they safe?

We use low-impact fiber-reactive dyes on our cotton products. These synthetic dyes chemically bond to the cotton fiber, resulting in products that don’t fade when washed.

They are better for the environment due to their high fixation rate (at least 70 percent). Fixation rate refers to the amount of the dye that attaches itself to the fiber as compared to the amount that goes down the drain. So, a 70 percent fixation rate means that 70 percent of the dye stays on the fabric whereas only 30 percent does not adhere to the fabric and is washed away into our water systems.

Low-impact fiber-reactive dyes do not contain heavy metals or other known toxic substances, and in many cases, this differs from natural dyes. Soda ash, also called washing soda or sodium carbonate, and salt are used during the dyeing cycle to help the low-impact fiber-reactive dyes chemically bond to the fabric.

How is Coyuchi’s textile manufacturing different from conventional manufacturing?

The majority of our products are manufactured according to the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). GOTS was developed to ensure the organic status of textiles, from the harvesting of fibers through their production. It enables manufacturers to make their organic textiles according to a single certification standard that is accepted in all major markets and provides credible assurance to the consumer.

The following is a list of regulations for GOTS textile processing and how it differs from conventional processing:

-At least 70 percent of the finished article must be certified as organic, which means no pesticides and no genetically modified seeds can be used.

-Natural starches from beeswax or potatoes are used during fabric weaving.

-Detergents used to clean the fabric during manufacture never contain phosphates. As soapy water gets discharged into water treatment facilities or our water supply, phosphates can cause algae to grow in rivers, absorbing and reducing the oxygen needed for healthy aquatic life. Phosphates used to be used in washing powders and dishwashing soap, but they are now regulated and banned in many countries. Most detergents that we use at home are marketed as “phosphate-free.”

-The detergents we use do not contain nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPEOs). These chemicals are good at wetting and cleaning fabric, but they are also persistent, which means they stay around for a long time. NPEOs do not break down easily in the environment and are bioaccumulative, meaning that they actually build up in organisms such as fish, birds and even humans. These chemicals are found everywhere: in our blood, urine and even breast milk. NPEOs do not cause cancer in humans, but they are very toxic to aquatic organisms. When they do eventually breakdown in our rivers and lakes, they turn into much more hazardous chemicals called nonylphenols (NPEs), which are even more dangerous than the NPEOs.

-Hydrogen peroxide and soda ash are used for whitening instead of chlorine bleach and ammonia.  

-Low-impact fiber-reactive dyes with high fixation rates are used for dyeing. These dyes are synthetic but do not contain heavy metals, do not break down into cancer-causing substances and are not skin allergens.

-No printing pastes that contain phthalates (make the printing paste pliable), PVC or organic solvents are allowed.

-No functional finishes are used. These include halogenated flame-retardants, perfluorinated chemicals for stain repellency, ultra-low formaldehyde glyoxyl resins for wrinkle-free finishing, and nanosilver, silver and triclosan for antimicrobial properties.

 What is the difference between clean and disinfected?

Cleaning textiles is the act of removing dirt, grease and stains with agitation, detergent and water. Cleaning usually occurs in washing machines, which rotate to create agitation that helps remove dirt and stains more effectively. The detergents in the water remove dirt, which is where germs grow and spread. Cleaning is adequate for most household items such as sheets, towels and clothes. Cleaning can occur in cold or warm water with detergents that are designed to work in these cooler conditions.

Disinfecting, on the other hand, destroys or inactivates most germs rather than just removing them. Chlorine bleach is often used to disinfect textiles, but it can weaken the fabric and it is hard to get rid of the chlorine smell. It is not necessary to disinfect your Coyuchi products.

Do I need to wash the items I receive from Coyuchi before using?

We recommend that you wash Coyuchi products before you use them for several reasons:

-To eliminate residual shrinkage. We tend to cut our products a little on the large side. Washing and drying will shrink cotton by about 3–5 percent, bringing our products to their intended size.

-To remove residual chemicals used in manufacturing. Although most chemicals such as starch, detergents and softeners are removed during the manufacturing cycle, washing our products using detergent and water will remove any residual chemicals.

-To remove any dirt or grease that may remain after the fabric has been made into garments, sheets and towels. This is unlikely, but you will have the assurance that products for your home are as clean as you expect.

-To improve the hand. Washing and drying loosens up the fabric, helps it relax, and makes it feel softer and therefore more comfortable.

-To eliminate any smells. Our textiles are made and stored in warehouses all over the world. They are then shipped to the United States. Cotton is naturally absorbent and can pick up smells during manufacturing, shipping or even during storage.  Cotton may also retain its natural smell or the smell of residual softeners, both result from the minimal processing our fabrics undergo.


About the textile chemist, Amanda Cattermole of Cattermole Consulting: 

Amanda Cattermole leads Cattermole Consulting Inc., and is an advocate for the adoption of safer chemicals. She has had key management roles in Product Development, Global Innovation, Research and Development and Sustainability. Amanda has worked with Levi Strauss and Co., the GreenPeace Detox campaign, and Zero Discharge of Hazard Chemicals (ZDHC). Amanda holds a Bachelors degree in Color Chemistry from Leeds University and a Masters degree in Textile Chemistry from UC Davis.