What You Need to Know Before Wearing a Reusable Cloth Mask

What You Need to Know Before Wearing a Reusable Cloth Mask

What You Need to Know Before Wearing a Reusable Cloth Mask

The chemicals in fabrics you didn't know about

Did you know, most companies producing washable masks do NOT wash the material before sewing and selling. Why is this important? Unless certified organic, all other cotton is genetically modified and heavily sprayed with round up in the growing fields. It is then shipped off to China and India to be made into cloth. Unfortunately, fabrics are sprayed heavily with pesticides and chemicals to fight molds, mildew and pests before shipping around the world. Manufacturers and seamstresses alike do not wash fabric before sewing. As consumers, we want that crisp, new look before we buy which unfortunately means that the chemical residue is still on the material when we purchase our new clothing or masks. It then rubs off on our skin or, in the case of masks, we breathe it into our lungs.

This is just the start of the toxic soup we are breathing in and is being absorbed through our skin. There is even a new skin condition on the rise called "maskne" - acne and dermatitis caused from the use of masks. Though few people are linking the chemical residue on the fabric to "maskne," one cannot help but ponder the possibility. Now that we are breathing through masks for hours on end, we have no idea what the long term effects are going to be, especially on the lungs of our young. Then you add other issues with lung health, asthma, and other respiratory problems due to wearing masks and we have a problem on our hands. What can we do to reduce the risks?

Washing your masks - how much does it help?

We can start by washing our masks as soon as we buy them, but this is far from a chemical-free solution. Most commercial well known brands of detergents are made up of a chemical cocktail that is left behind after washing and drying. We compound the problem when we use dryer sheets or scented products like Downy Unstoppables.

Even though laundry products are not required to list their full ingredients due to powerful lobby groups, it is a well know fact that fragrance is made up of between 5 and dozens of individual chemicals that are not tested for safety over long term use. Nor what happens when these chemicals combine with other products. Many have been found to combine to produce formaldehyde!

I found a really great website for discovering how many different chemicals are used to make up a fragrance.  I have to give this brand credit for being up front about what goes into their products. They allow you, the consumer, to educate yourself on the ingredients by listing every single ingredient helping you make an educated decision (you still need to check the ingredient out by Googling it or running it through EWG or Google Scholar if you want to go deep). Bravo! I wish the big brands did the same instead of hiding behind legislation to misguide the consumer into believing their products are safe.

I recently googled "best, safe, natural detergents" and was appalled to find some sites listing Tide Purclean as #1. A quick search on EWG site gives Tide Purclean a failing grade. Now I am not saying that EWG is the authority on safe, but at least it's a start if you are unfamiliar with the names of chemicals. Another well-known site claimed that a certain brand used only natural essential oils to scent their products. A search of their site revealed a different story. Is this just another instance where an author is being paid by large corporations to mislead the public?

What can we do to make our masks more safe?

1. STOP using scented laundry products

Choosing unscented does not automatically mean safe. Companies often use a chemical scent blocker to trick your nose into believing there is no scent. READ the label. If it doesn't list the full ingredient list, look for a brand you trust. Small, indie brands are a good place to start as they generally don't have an agenda of "sales at any cost." You also have the opportunity to contact then directly and ask questions.

2. STOP using detergents with optical brighteners

These chemicals don't degrade/decompose in the environment. They contaminate our waterways and environment. We don't know what the long term effects will be. They have been found to cause impotence and can lower testosterone levels. The EPA found "they may be potentially toxic to humans and cause developmental and reproductive effects."

3. STOP using SLS-based detergents

SLS is found in shampoos, liquid soap, toothpaste, deodorants, cosmetics and detergents. We are exposed in many ways in our everyday use. Here is why it can be dangerous: a dangerous byproduct of the manufacture of SLS (sodium lauryl sulfate) SLES (sodium laureth sulfate) or ALS (ammonium lauryl sulfate) is 1,4 dioxane. You will never find this listed in the ingredient list as manufacturers do not want you to know that there is a distinct possiblility of this contaminant in their products. A study by the EWG found up to 22% of household products contaminated by 1,4 dioxane. Short term exposure can lead to: nausea, headache, eye, nose and throat irritation. Long term exposure is shown to cause cancer, kidney, liver and nervous system damage. Why take the risk when SLS-free detergents are available. Read more about SLS here.

4. Try some of these safer alternatives:

    • Substitute wool dryer balls instead of dryer sheets.

    • Vinegar added to rinse cycle or on a washcloth in dryer can reduce static cling.

    • Baking soda added to wash cycle will soften clothes, eliminate adours and maintain a fresh, clean scent without chemical scents.

    • Hydrogen peroxide or lemon juice and sun can safely brighten laundry without the use of chemical brighteners that leave a chemical footprint..

    • If you really miss scent, a drop of essential oil on your wool dryer ball or mask will quickly evaporate without you having to breath it in all day. They're also safe for the environment and some (with anti-inflammatory properties) can even help with breathing problems. Read more about essential oils for colds/respiratory issues here.


We would love to hear about the alternatives your family uses. Drop us a line as we would love to see this list of safe alternatives grow.

3 Responses

think clearly

June 28, 2022

Some or all of those ingredients are already used in commercial detergents (not sure why you want to bleach your clothes though)
Even though some of the more popular ones could be bad, they aren’t going to make them hazardlus when the washings done. And there are alternatives to popular detergents anyway, like ecover as just one example

Wanda Pelletier

May 21, 2021

I now make my own laundry detergent. It has washing soda, citric acid and any bar of soap as ingredients. I will have to look more carefully at what kind of bar soap I use. The wool ball is also something I have tried in the past but did not keep up with it, probably due to a move and it getting lost or?? will have to go back to that, presently the dryer sheets we use are cut into thirds, which still work to get rid of the static and is less chemicals by a third. Thanks for all your tips.

Cloud 9 Naturally

May 21, 2021

Thanks so much for your response, Wanda – making your own detergent is a great idea. If you come up with a good natural recipe, let us know! And you’re right, even reducing the chemicals by a third is better than nothing. But I LOVE wool dryer balls!

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