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What Are the Standards for Organic Cotton Clothing?

What Are the Standards for Organic Cotton Clothing?

At a Glance

You already know that cotton growers need to avoid the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and synthetic pesticides to use the “organic” label. Obtaining an organic cotton certification, however, requires a great deal more effort than that.

As a conscious consumer, you already know the many benefits of buying organic cotton clothing for your children. You’re helping to reduce the use of agrochemicals in the world’s cotton fields and potentially improving the long-term health of the planet. You’re also reducing the chance of residual pesticides irritating your child’s skin.

What exactly is organic cotton, though? You already know that cotton growers need to avoid the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and synthetic pesticides to use the “organic” label. Obtaining an organic certification, however, requires a great deal more effort than that. In this article, we’ll examine some of the world’s most popular standards for organic cotton. From now on, you’ll know exactly what you’re getting when you buy clothing with one of these labels.

Pictured at top: Organic Turkish Cotton Luxury Hotel and Spa Towels

What Is Organic Cotton?

To understand what organic certification standards actually mean, you must first understand what organic farming is. In general, organic farmers must plant organic seeds and restrict themselves to using only non-synthetic pesticides and fertilizers. Instead of using synthetic pesticides, organic farmers rotate crops and use compost or manure to replenish nutrients lost within the soil. In addition, a farm cannot receive organic certification unless the soil is free of prohibited substances for three years.

United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)

In order to label a product for sale in the United States as “organic” or “100 percent organic,” the fibers in an organic cotton garment must meet the same USDA National Organic Program standards as produce and meat. To receive the “100 percent organic” label, a garment must contain only organic fibers. Any consumable materials used during processing must also be organic. Every link in the chain from crop to final garment including processing and manufacturing must also have USDA organic certification. A garment labeled “organic” can have five percent non-organic components used during the production process such as acids and enzymes. However, the fibers must be organic.

Oeko-Tex

The International Association for Research and Testing in the Field of Textile Ecology (Oeko-Tex) developed the Oeko-Tex standard for textiles in 1992. Oeko-Tex doesn’t certify that textiles are organic. Rather, it certifies that they contain no harmful substances. So, you could think of Oeko-Tex certification as a supplement to organic certification. The Oeko-Tex standard becomes more stringent depending upon the intended use of the textile. Textiles intended for children aged three years and under must meet the strictest standards. Some of the substances that an Oeko-Tex certifying agency tests for include formaldehyde, lead, cadmium, phthalates and volatile organic compounds.

Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)

GOTS is a holistic textile standard that certifies adherence to organic farming methods, avoidance of prohibited substances and responsible labor practices throughout the entire textile supply chain. Some of the substances that GOTS prohibits include formaldehyde, heavy metals, GMOs, PVCs — including in accessories such as hangers — and chlorine. In addition, GOTS prohibits forced labor, child labor, unsafe working conditions, discrimination and excessive work hours.

The Label Tells the Story

The textile certifications that you see when you shop for organic cotton clothing aren’t just generic marketing terms. They represent the fact that real people are out there examining farms and factories, checking records and testing products to ensure that the clothing you buy is safe for your child and the environment. When you buy certified organic cotton clothing, you aren’t just doing the right thing for textile workers, your family and the planet — you’re buying a better product.