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Fleece; Cotton versus Polyester

The first time I came across polyester fleece in my local fabric store I was ecstatic. This was sometime in the early 90's and I was an avid sewer and the mother of a toddler. Cheap, soft, cuddly and warm not to mention all of the cute prints! I thought I had found the perfect fabric for fulfilling many of my families needs in our damp and cool Northern California coastal climate. I set about making jackets, hats, throw blankets and even bath robes. Then I had the bright idea of making my toddler some one piece footie pajamas. Why not, I thought, it's the same type of fabric that the big name brand manufacturers use. Like most active toddlers, my son was prone to kicking his blankets off during the night which would result in him waking up cold which would then result in him padding down the hall to our bedroom and climbing into our bed where he would promptly fall fast asleep. If you have ever had a toddler in bed with you then you know first hand how much they thrash and kick! Our son would even spin himself so he was horizontal to us! Something had to give. I was starting to go batty from lack of sleep. 

The polyester fleece pajama experiment

Well appointed in his new polyester fleece pajamas I tucked my son into bed feeling proud of myself for I thought I had solved our nighttime sleeping problems. Little did I know that I had just traded one set of problems for another. A couple hours after tucking him in, out he comes into the living room. His cheeks are bright red, he has a light sheen of sweat on his face and neck and his hair is stuck to his forehead. I proceed to talk to him like he was awake, asking him what was wrong. Mind you, his eyes were open. But low and behold, he was not awake! He was sleep walking. I had never encountered a sleep walker before this so I didn't realize what was going on and I ended up waking him up before I figured it out. This sent him into a two hour crying jag. Boy, lesson learned. Never wake a sleep walker. 

Over the course of the next few weeks, this same scenario repeated itself a number of times and it was always accompanied by a red face and a sweaty body. I figured out along the way not to talk to him when he entered the living room but to just gentle guide him back to bed which was less jarring for him and us but it didn't solve the over heating issues. 

Finding the solution-all cotton pajamas

When a rash started to form on the inside of his thighs and arm pits I decided that we had both had enough of this experiment and I threw the polyester pajamas away. By this time I had done some research into the properties of synthetic fabrics and had decided that all natural, cotton pajamas held the answer to our problems. I found some nice fabric at a boutique fabric store that was 100% cotton and made new pajamas. Now totally covered in his cozy footie pajamas that were made from breathable cotton, our son slept soundly all night without overheating or sleep walking.

The properties of cotton and polyester fabrics

There are two main fiber classifications; natural and man made/synthetic. Cotton, silk, wool, flax and hemp are natural fibers. Acetate, acrylic, nylon, rayon and polyester are man made/synthetic. 

Polyester is made from terephthalic acid, a petroleum derivative, with ethylene glycol, another petroleum derivative that is commonly know as antifreeze. 

Polyester is not breathable and tends to stick to perspiring skin. It melts as opposed to burns. Fabrics made from polyester are general less expensive then fabrics made from natural fibers.   

Cotton is hypoallergenic and does not irritate the skin. When it is grown organically it is free of chemicals. It is breathable, it allows more air flow so the body does not over heat. Burns as opposed to melts. Fabrics made from cotton generally cost more then synthetic fabrics. 

Polyester fleece and our oceans health

Fast forward 30 years and we now understand the dangers that plastics and synthetic microfibers pose to the health of our water ways, oceans and even our food chain. When we wash clothing made from synthetic pile fabrics such as polar fleece, tiny threads shed from the fabric and travel to local wastewater treatment plants. Which then end up in rivers, lakes and oceans. Synthetic microfibers are particularly dangerous because they have the potential to poison the food chain, being so small they are easily consumed by fish and other wildlife which in turn makes it up the food chain to larger animals, like us! 

Scary as it is, we have the ability to make a difference. Take action by avoiding to purchase clothing made from synthetic fibers whenever possible. Your family and your planet will thank you.  


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