Is Polyester a Carcinogen?

Nessie over at Northern Baby posted a thought-provoking article on polyester fabrics. This includes a lot of the fleece, microfleece, PUL and other blends commonly found in popular styles of cloth diapers, but even more so in children’s sleepwear, clothing, bedding and other gear. She found this information on both the Firefly Diaper webstie and also on Diaper Pin.

I personally think that scientists seem to discover almost everything is linked to cancer at one time or another and believe that moderation is the key for anything (yes, even chocolate). I am not about to throw out dozens of cloth diapers, blankets, bags and gear based on this article, but it definitely makes me stop and think. And hopefully this will aide me in making future purchase decisions for my family. I always prefer organic and natural materials, but it’s not always a reality and there is no way to completely avoid synthetic or polyester fabrics in our everyday lives (OK, not IMPOSSIBLE, but difficult).

I have been going through a fitted diaper fix lately, made mostly of natural and organic materials, so at least I feel great about that and my wool covers/longies. What are your thoughts on this? Will this affect the decisions you’ve already made for cloth diapers and baby gear (or even fabrics in the home) or future purchase decisions?

Note from the referenced article’s author:
I hope the article didn’t mislead that polyester is a carcinogen. I know of no study that shows this. Polyester is an inert compound. The point of that article was to say that there can be unreacted monomers present, and almost all of these are carcinogens.

The article itself is old, even out of date. There is probably a new article to be written on phytoestrogens asking whether there are reaction products of polyester—meaning, perhaps polyester isn’t as unreactive as assumed. The circumstances under which these compounds were produced was not well understood at the time the article was written.

{If you enjoyed reading Is Polyester a Carcinogen? I would be tickled pink if you left a comment. To read more about my green(er) parenting aspirations, advice and adventures be sure to subscribe to my RSS feed or get updates via email.}


By Emi Stapler. I am a cloth diaper advocate, green parenting blogger, mother of three and a military wife who enjoys sharing my motherhood adventures and advice. Follow me at The Cloth Diaper Report on Facebook, Twitter @TheCDReport , Google +, Pinterest and Instagram.

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  1. Really, I've been kind of anti-plastics, including polyester, for the last 14 years, but I don't shun them. Are they liable to give us cancer? Maybe. But I'd think that there are a lot of more toxic substances I need to work on getting out of my life before I hunt down all the synthetic fabrics. For instance, I feel what we put in our bodies have a greater opportunity to act on us as carcinogens than those that sit next to our bodies. But yes, I do frequently look for ways to reduce the amount of synthetics in our life, going all cotton whenever possible for (pref organic) and other less harmful materials when ever else I ca, but I admit, my diaper covers are all poly.

  2. Please note that a carcinogen is VERY different than a substance that can "promote" or encourage growth in a cell that is *already* cancerous. When they say promote, they don't mean it is making the cell cancerous. They mean the cells are growing well, presumably in response to the substance.

    The polyester wasn't *making* the cells cancerous – it was acting as a substrate for the already-cancerous lab-grown cancer cells to grow and thrive upon.

    Carcinogens are substances that cause alterations in a cell's DNA, which can lead to a mutation that causes cancerous conditions in the cell (generally, by switching regulatory functions on and off inside the cell). It is very, VERY different. There are also natural foods and substances that are carcinogens – it is not limited at all to man-made products and processes.

    To disclose my bias, I have worked as a molecular and cellular biologist with primary cell lines. I do NOT have a PhD in cell biology, just a bachelors. I don't actually see anything in that article that would cause me to stop using my PUL diaper covers, though I do find it very interesting and the author's background in Materials Science is certainly worthwhile.

    It appears that neither author is a cellular or molecular biologist though, so I would want to look up studies performed within that field.

  3. Teresha@Marlie and Me says:

    This is the first I am hearing this. we try to stick to 100% cotton or other natural fibers for our baby's clothes and gear, but sometimes it can't be avoided like with diaper covers. I am not really concerned since there is a cotton or bamboo cloth diaper acting as a barrier between her skin and the PUL. I think a few pieces of clothes containing a low percent of polyester won't cause harm either, but I wouldn't want all her stuff to be made of synthetic materials just to avoid the potential for skin irritations.

  4. newmami_rgv says:

    I do tend to look at the tags to see if they are 100% cotton, I'm not all organic yet, but I'd like to be. I'm sure I will still buy some items that are mix blend, but not to cause harm to my family. I won't let this article effect my buying choices. I'd rather use PUL vs polyester or vinyl because they have a smell. Thanks for the article.

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