YES! But How? :: Non-toxic Rain Gear

Rubber Boots

Nylon and polyester rain gear and rubber boots are a safer bet than synthetic plastic waterproofs to avoid the environmental pollutants used in rain gear.


I bike to work, and with winter approaching, I want to stay as dry as possible. But what kind of hazardous chemicals are in my waterproof gear?

Let’s be honest: Getting drenched is safer for both you and the planet than donning most protective clothing.

Waterproof fabrics are usually coated in synthetic plastic resins. Because the waterproofing agents are not chemically bonded to the fabric, they easily escape into the environment. Your body absorbs them via skin contact with your gear, as well as through polluted air, water, and food. A buildup of these toxins in your body can contribute to various health problems. Many waterproof sprays also contain toxic chemicals and can persist in the environment for generations.

The acronyms to watch out for: PTFE, PFOA, PFC, and the most prevalent of all, PVC. The versatile polyvinyl chloride, commonly known as vinyl, is used in all kinds of products, and is the first ingredient to avoid in rain gear. Scientists and government organizations recognize PVC as one of the most toxic plastics ever made.

Scientists say PVC never stops emitting toxic gases, is linked to cancer, and harms the immune, hormone, and reproductive systems. Phthalates, used with PVC for material flexibility, should be avoided for similar reasons. PVC processing also releases poisonous dioxins that contaminate our air and groundwater.

PVC is resistant to oil, chemicals, and the elements, and is not biodegradable or recyclable. It even contaminates other plastics. Keep in mind that the smell of a new raincoat comes from the toxins escaping into the air and your lungs. PVC vinyl in clothing typically looks like shiny plastic but isn’t always obvious, so check tags.

Perfluorinated compounds, PFCs, linger in the environment and like PVC have been linked to hormone and reproductive problems and cancer. PFCs also make up the nonstick coatings in cookware.

Polytetrafluoroethylene, PTFE, and the fluorosurfactant PFOA are lasting environmental pollutants used in some protective gear.

Nylon and polyester rain gear and rubber boots are safer bets. Go without waterproof rain gear if you can, and remember some woolen fabrics, especially tweeds and Navajo weaves along with most synthetic fleece blends repel water naturally.

—Keeley Harding

Send questions to YES! But How?, 284 Madrona Way NE, Suite 116, Bainbridge Island, WA 98110 or to [email protected]

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