Sunday, November 3, 2013

Poly Fiberfill: Real-life Monster in Your Child's Toys

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I've been having this problem lately. It's a mental problem, a frustration, a sadness. It comes up when I look at friends' beautiful toys and dolls and patterns. It happens when I gawk in awe at art dolls made of wool and linen, with carefully hand stitched elements and embroidery. It forces an Armageddon-powered "why gods why" cry of despair to come flying out of my mouth like demons from craft-hell.


Poly Fiberfill is my main nemesis. My skin crawls when I see art plush dolls made from wool and linen with carefully handmade accessories and then stuffed with polyfill. ESPECIALLY when those dolls sell for $250. Polyfill feels cheap. It has no heft. It feels weightless. It feels dead. It has no physical warmth.

And while the abstracts on the finished products state it is inert in its finished form, they also state that protective measures must be taken when using such fibers. Contradiction? You bet! There are other abstracts that clearly state the consequences of ingesting or inhaling these fibers (more below).

Yet our infants suck on these fibers daily, breathing and ingesting fake fur and leaking fiberfill which are coated with silver colloid and Triclosan antibacterial agents and other plastics meant to keep the plastic toxins from leaching out of the fiber.

Plastic fibers are just that: plastic. Taiwanese manufacturing calls these chemical fibers. In truth they are petrochemical fibers. They are made from oil waste. They are the poop of oil production. And we are covering our nakedness with them and hand sewing cuddly toys from them. They pollute on a grand scale and we take no responsibility for that as the end-user of these fabrics and fibers made in other countries. If they were produced in our own backyard, we might have a different opinion about their safety.

  • It is made from polyethylene terepthalate. Poly fiberfill is registered in the US Toxic Substances Control Act. This would not be necessary if the product were considered completely non-toxic. 
  • Fibers are coated with additional chemicals, pesticides, and bactericides to seal in toxins and kill natural elements.
  • EPA studies show chemical fiber manufacture creates "significant emissions" while "particulate emissions from fiber plants are relatively low, at least an order of magnitude lower than solvent VOC emissions". read here
  • Engineers such as Anguil have been contracted to create better toxic by-product recapture machinery because "the oxidation and carbonization furnaces and ovens emit hydrogen cyanide, ammonia, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs)...some of which are extremely dangerous to human health, even in very small quantities. Other pollutants of concern for carbon fiber producers include harmful gasses such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide." 
  • Studies in countries engaged in "chemical fiber manufacturing" show extremely high levels of carbon pollution and carcinogenic particles in local water and air. read here
  • In manufacturing poly fiberfill, three known carcinogens are produced in excess of occupational safety limits. (Health and Safety - UK)
  • Polyfill is deemed to cause no respiratory distress, yet according to many sources, manufacture AND USE of these fibers require proper ventilation and respiratory protection. read this
  • Polyfill decomposes with heat and emits hazardous gasses (vinyl acetate and acetic acid). read here
  • Hazardous gasses are produced when burned: carbon monoxide, organic gasses, aldehydes, alcohols, and calcium salts. read here
  • While ingestion and inhalation of poly fiberfill is considered "unlikely", safety warnings are: "Prolonged exposure may cause skin irritation." AND "If ingested may cause abdominal pain, vomiting, or diarrhea." AND when inhaled can "cause irritation to upper respiratory tract, nose, and throat and can result in coughing, chest discomfort, and headache." read here
So there's my rant and there's the evidence. Polyester fiberfill is not the faultless angel of toymaking and neither are plastic fiber fabrics. They have consequences in our world. They are not clean and harmless. 

And here are some of the many other original choices for toy and doll stuffing. 
  • Wool
  • Cotton
  • Kapok
  • Buckwheat
  • Syriaca (milkweed)
  • Corn (not generally GMO free according to the manufacturers) read here
  • Down and feathers
  • Your fabric, thread, and yarn scraps
  • Denim insulation
This is where I get my wool fleece stuffing. If you are in Australia, I highly recommend this woman-owned home business:

CHALLENGE: Polyfill is the alternative so the challenge is to go back to a natural toy and doll stuffing option. For toy pattern makers, make your next sample doll out of cotton fleece or flannel or linen and stuff with any of the above non-plastic stuffing materials. Note what materials you used to make your doll and give materials options that enable the maker to choose for themselves but also educates them to the possibility of using a natural, less-harming product. If you make and sell toys, consider a natural fibers product to expand your customer base.


  1. Very interesting & educational post, I don't think I have every really thought about how polyfill is made {sad but true :( } One of my plans for next year is to start using more into natural fibres & less synthetics. Thanks for the kinks for the natural fillings I have added them to my growing list of (natural fibre) suppliers :D

    1. Good for you, Mignon! I know it's a rather strong position to take, but once I found out how harmful these products are to workers and those who live near the manufacturing plants, I could no longer ignore the hurt I was causing others by using something so easily avoided and replaced. I also plan to test out various stuffings for ease of use and machine washing and will report my findings on the blog.

    2. Cool, look forward to reading it :)

  2. Ahhh!!! I am ordering a big bag of corn stuffing right now... thank you for such an important post Alison. Keep up the good work. Margeaux

    1. Awesome Margeaux! I'd love to post a review of it, if you find yourself having opinions pro or con. I have also been updating sources for natural stuffings and supplies on the Sources Sew-pplies page (tab under the blog header):

    2. Haha! I meant if you would be willing to write a review, I'd love to post it.

  3. I got some stuck in my drain and it's clogged it I've tried draino, muriatic acid, plumbers snake, acetone! None of those have been worked f0r me! I'm running out of options!
    non woven

    1. Oh dear! This is a plastic and will not dissolve by normal means. You may have to open the section of pipe and remove it.