The term “organic” is most often used to describe foods that are produced without the use of synthetic fertilizers, chemical pesticides or artificial antibiotics and hormones. As new organic methods of production become available, the spectrum described by the word “organic” becomes wider and more complex. Some producers reject antibiotics for their own livestock, but are more flexible about purchasing animal feed that may have been treated with pesticides. In other words, some foods are more “organic” than others.
With slight variations, the same holds true for other organic products. A growing number of consumers are looking for ways to make safe, healthy lifestyle choices beyond the realm of food. But what does this entail? What exactly is organic cotton, and what kinds of producers are legally permitted to attach that term to their products?
Also, the relationship between safety and cleaning chemicals carries its own set of standards. There are few things safer than an organic tomato grown in your own backyard, but there are few things more dangerous than self-made cleaning supplies mixed together recklessly from chemicals found around the home.
If you want to expand your organic lifestyle beyond eating organic food, learn more about choosing organic fabrics, clothing and cleaning supplies.
Choosing Organic Clothing and Textiles
The first step to a healthier and simpler lifestyle involves replacing petroleum-based textiles, like nylon, spandex and polyester, with natural fibers like wool and cotton. The second step involves choosing organic clothing over wool and cotton textiles that have been conventionally farmed. Some clothing is labeled as organic on the label, but this means different things for different fabrics.
According to the Organic Trade Association (2010), organic cotton is farmed using methods and materials that have a low impact on the environment. The use of toxic pesticides and fertilizers is reduced or rejected altogether, and organic growing methods are used to maintain soil fertility and keep agriculture biologically diverse. Organic cotton farmers resist monocultures and do not use genetically engineered seed. Responsible organic cotton growers subject their methods and materials to third-party certifiers who can guarantee that these methods and materials meet organic standards. In the U.S., strict federal regulations control the methods used to produce any cotton sold or labeled as organic.
What Products Contain Organic Cotton?
When it leaves the farm, organic cotton is used in the manufacture of the following:
- Personal care products, such as cotton swabs, sanitary items and cotton balls
- Toys and diapers
- Household items, such as towels, blankets and bedding
Organic cotton is also increasingly used in clothing. Apparel manufacturers may sell products made of 100-percent organic cotton, or they may use small percentages of organic cotton mixed in with non-organic cotton or blended with other fabrics. If you are interested in buying organic cotton clothing, read labels carefully and patronize producers who participate in Organic Trade Association programs.
Buying Organic Wool
The market for organic clothing products, such as wool, is growing rapidly, but producers still cite obstacles to production including difficulty in finding markets for their products. It isn’t as easy to produce high volumes of product using organic methods, and by nature, this means that prices for organic textiles can’t drop below the cost of production, and farmers can rarely benefit from economies of scale. Wool growers experience this difficulty in very specific ways. Healthy sheep need space, and cannot be permitted to overgraze their pastures. So organic wool producers must keep the number of animals they maintain within certain limits. They must also refrain from using chemical pesticides to control fleas and ticks, and all feed provided to the sheep, beginning with the last third of gestation, must be organically produced.
In spite of these challenges, organic wool is increasingly popular. According to the Organic Trade Association, over 19,000 pounds of fully organic wool was gown in the US and Canada in 2005, and the number has grown since that time (2011). This wool is used in clothing, but it is also used in household items, mattresses, mattress pads and stuffing in furniture and car seats. Many consumers turn to organic wool to avoid the toxic gasses that are released during the gradual deterioration of petroleum based synthetic stuffing.
Opting for Organic Cleaning Products
The first step to adopting organic cleaning products involves a subtle shift of perspective. For generations, many of us have been taught to believe that harsher chemicals lead to cleaner surfaces. Not only is this false, but it can often introduce harmful substances into our homes in our efforts to fight germs and dirt that actually represent a comparatively minor health threat.
Before you clean a surface, pause and reflect. Tap water spritzed on a living room mirror and buffed away will suffice to remove the streaks. The mirror doesn’t need to be sterilized. Vinegar can be used to kill mold, baking soda makes an excellent scouring powder and lemon juice and tee tree oil can be effective at cutting through greasy spots and smudges. Before you buy commercial cleaning products, read the labels to make sure you aren’t spending money on a potentially dangerous chemical that may be just as effective as water.
For truly germy bathroom and kitchen surfaces, diluted chlorine bleach will often provide the same chemical sterilization offered by most manufactured products. But in your efforts to save money or protect your home from toxic substances, remember never to combine bleach, oven cleaners or toilet bowl cleaners with ammonia, lye or vinegar. This can create cyanide gas, which is deadly. In simpler terms: Never mix bleach with vinegar. This is a tragically common mistake, and often takes the lives of those who were only trying to make their homes safer.
Be careful when mixing your own cleaning products and remember a few rules of thumb: Less is more. Simple is better. And a clean surface is easier to attain then we sometimes realize.