Is Polyester Safe for Babies? Facts All Parents Should Know

James Miller
James is an environmentalist, sustainability expert and senior editor at TheRoundup, specializing in testing non-toxic, organic and eco-friendly products. James, his wife and two daughters believe in chemical-free and zero-waste living. They aim to leave the planet in a better state than we found it, for future generations to enjoy.
James Miller
Updated: April 17, 2024

Polyester is a widely used synthetic fabric that has become increasingly common in baby products. But is it safe?

The truth is polyester is generally not considered the safest fabric choice for babies, especially for clothing and bedding that directly contacts their skin.

So what are the issues with polyester, and what are the alternatives?

As a father of two, I spent weeks researching the effects that petroleum-based fibers could have on my daughters' health. Now I want to help others avoid that stress and worry by pointing you straight towards the facts.

In this guide, I explain the potential concerns around using polyester for babies, and guide you through the safer alternatives and best practices that can reduce the risks.

Understanding Polyester and Its Uses

sheets of polyester fabric

What is Polyester?

Polyester is a man-made, petroleum-based fabric created through a chemical process.

It is produced by combining ethylene glycol and dimethyl terephthalate, which are then heated and extruded into long polymer chains that are woven or knitted into fabric.

Polyester is a popular choice for manufacturers because of its durability, wrinkle resistance, and affordable price point.

Common Baby Products Made from Polyester

Polyester can be found in a wide range of baby products, including:

  • Clothing like jumpsuits, onesies and pajamas
  • Bedding such as crib mattresses, crib sheets and blankets
  • Toys and accessories like stuffed animals and bottle nipples

Its versatility and easy-care properties have contributed to its widespread use in the baby market. In fact, over 95% of all soft toys sold globally are made from polyester fabric.

Evaluating the Risks: Is Polyester Safe for Babies?

polyester used in baby products - but is it safe?

Chemical Components in Polyester Production

The chemical process used to create polyester raises some concerns regarding potential health impacts. The two main ingredients have been linked to skin irritation and, in some cases, potential toxicity if ingested.

While the finished polyester fabric is generally considered safe, the impact that these underlying chemical components can have on the human body is worth considering, especially for delicate baby skin.

Sensitive Skin and Allergies

Babies, particularly those with sensitive skin or conditions like eczema, may be more prone to skin irritation, rashes, and allergic reactions when exposed to polyester.

The synthetic nature of the fabric can be less breathable than natural fibers, trapping heat and moisture against the skin, which can exacerbate skin issues.

Breathability and Heat Retention

The synthetic nature of polyester can make it less breathable than natural fibers, which may increase the risk of sweating, overheating, and discomfort for babies, particularly in warm weather conditions.

This reduced breathability can be an important consideration for parents, as it can potentially increase the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

Risks Associated with Microplastics

Another concern with polyester is the shedding of tiny plastic particles, known as microplastics, during the washing process. Polyester fibers make up two-thirds (around 67%) of the microplastics found in household dust.

These microscopic fragments can end up in the environment and potentially be ingested, posing both ecological and potential health risks for babies and their families.

Flame Retardants and Other Chemical Treatments

Many polyester baby products, especially sleepwear and bedding, are treated with additional chemicals like flame retardants to improve performance and safety.

However, these supplementary chemicals can further contribute to skin irritation and other health concerns for infants.

Alternatives to Polyester

Non-Toxic Baby Clothes

If you have concerns about the safety of polyester for your baby, choose non-toxic baby clothes made from alternative natural fabrics such as organic cotton, hemp, bamboo, and wool.

These materials are generally softer, more breathable, and hypoallergenic. Even better, they don't get hot and itchy and don't shed microplastics, making them a safer choice for your baby's skin and lungs.

Non-Toxic Crib Mattresses

A University of Texas study of polyurethane foam and polyester foam padding in crib mattresses found that on average they emitted VOCs at a rate of 87.1 micrograms per square meter per hour.

To protect your baby from breathing in VOCs, choose a non-toxic crib mattress. They're made from natural and organic materials, which means they are also breathable and help regulate their temperature while they sleep.

Pros and Cons of Global Recycled Standard Certified Polyester

If you prefer the practicality of polyester, you can at least look for products made with Global Recycled Standard (GRS) certified polyester.

This certification ensures the polyester is made from recycled materials and processed without using additional harmful chemicals, providing a more sustainable and (potentially) safer option.

However, just because it's better for the environment, it doesn't mean you don't have to worry about toxic chemicals in recycled polyester. Recycled plastics can still contain flame retardants, phthalates, and heavy metals.

Materials such as recycled PET have been found to contain as many as 42 potential contaminants.

Best Practices & Safety Precautions for Using Polyester in Baby Products

Choosing High-Quality Polyester

If you don't want to avoid polyester baby items entirely for (reasons of cost or practicality), opt for high-quality, well-made products from reputable brands that prioritize safety and transparency in their manufacturing processes.

This can help ensure the polyester is as safe as possible for your little one.

Regular Cleaning

To minimize the potential risks of polyester, regularly wash polyester baby items to help reduce the buildup of chemicals and the shedding of microplastic particles.

Avoid using harsh detergents and fabric softeners, as these can further irritate sensitive skin.

The Final Word

In 2024, roughly 70% of clothing is made from synthetic fibers. So even if (like me) you don't wear polyester now, chances are you have done at some point in the past.

But while polyester is a common and affordable material used in many baby products, there are some potential safety concerns associated with the toxicity of polyester that you need to consider.

The risk of overheating and microfiber ingestion were my two main concerns when I decided that our girls would only wear and sleep on natural fibers.

Recycled polyester is far better environmentally, but it can still contain potentially dangerous chemicals that can cause health issues in later life.

Personally, I just didn't want to take the risk.


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James Miller
James Miller
James is an environmentalist, sustainability expert and senior editor at TheRoundup, specializing in testing non-toxic, organic and eco-friendly products. James, his wife and two daughters believe in chemical-free and zero-waste living. They aim to leave the planet in a better state than we found it, for future generations to enjoy. - As Seen On
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