Think about all the items made of fabric in your home: throw pillows, sofas, rugs, towels, sheets, not to mention all the clothes in your closet. How these textiles are produced and disposed of later impacts the environment. In 2017 alone, the U.S. produced nearly 17 million tons of textiles, of which over 66% ended up in landfills, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Perhaps that's why more shoppers want to decorate with natural fabrics, according to a 2020 Etsy trend report. Searches for "organic bedding" have increased 36% in the past six months, compared to the same time frame last year. Hemp items and cactus silk pieces in the home and living category have also risen by 14% and 12%, respectively. Check our guide to incorporate more eco-conscious fabrics into your home.
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What Makes a Fabric "Eco-Friendly"?
In general, eco-conscious fabrics are made from natural materials and produced using sustainable practices. This means they're typically not treated with potentially harmful or irritating chemicals, such as synthetic fabric dyes or other chemical finishes. More specifically, textiles classified as "organic" are made from plant materials grown without the use of pesticides and other chemicals. Fabric can be called organic if 95% of the material contains organic textiles.
Typically made of plant materials, eco-friendly fabrics biodegrade naturally over time when placed in landfills. On the other hand, synthetic fibers (some of which are made from plastics) usually take much longer to break down and can release chemicals into the environment as they biodegrade. Many eco-conscious textiles are also naturally anti-bacterial and hypoallergenic, so they're safer and healthier to have in your home.
Types of Eco-Friendly Fabrics
To shop for textile goods more sustainably, pay attention to what items are made of and how they're produced. Before purchasing a fabric item, including home goods and clothing, check the label to determine its material. For the most eco-friendly option, look for the following natural fabric types.
This fabric is spun from the pulp of bamboo plants, a fast-growing grass that requires no fertilizer or replanting. Bamboo fabric can be used as a more sustainable substitute for cotton, which is often heavily treated with pesticides and requires a substantial amount of water to grow. Breathable, moisture-wicking, and stretchable, this fabric is often found in clothing and household items, including bamboo bedsheets ($99, Target) and throw blankets.
Made from the stalks of cannabis plants, hemp fabric is lightweight but extremely durable. Similar in feel to canvas, it resists shrinkage or pilling and stands up well after many washes, making it ideal for clothing. This textile is also highly resistant to mold and mildew, and you can find items such as hemp throw pillows and hemp rugs ($355-$2300, West Elm) at many home furnishings retailers.
Lyocell, also known under its branded name Tencel, is made from wood pulp cellulose from trees including eucalyptus, birch, and oak. The fabric has a smooth, soft surface that's highly elastic and durable. With its moisture-wicking properties, lyocell is great for clothing and household linens like bedsheets ($132-$168, West Elm)and bath towels.
Woven with fibers from the flax plant, linen is soft, strong, and highly breathable. Because it absorbs moisture and dries quickly, the textile is naturally anti-bacterial. Linen is used for a wide variety of household items, including kitchen towels ($38, Etsy) and duvet covers ($150-$250, West Elm)
Other Plant-Based Fabrics
Some eco-friendly fabrics are made from more unusual materials, such as cacti or pineapple leaves. Although these textiles are not yet widely available, you can find specialty items from retailers like Etsy.
We can all help reduce our environmental impact by making small daily changes, and outfitting our homes with eco-conscious fabrics is one simple way to get started.