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Is Your Clothing Laced With Formaldehyde?

Is Your Clothing Laced With Formaldehyde?

If you thought the last time you were in contact with formaldehyde was when you dissected a frog in your elementary school science class, think again.

A recent study by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, shows that a broad range of clothing and household products are treated with a resin that releases formaldehyde. The purpose? Think wrinkle-free shirts and chinos, and yes, even wrinkle-free pillowcases, sheets and crib sheets.

Formaldehyde may be all around you

In fact, according to an article in The New York Times, formaldehyde can show up pretty much in any room in your house. Upholstery fabrics, draperies, children’s baseball caps, and personal care products including some shampoos, lotions and make up are all on the list of potential culprits.

But why? “Formaldehyde basically keeps the fabric’s fibers in place after a spin in the washing machine. Without it, the fibers become wrinkled or creases may fade,” The Times article explains. 

Formaldehyde in clothing is not a new phenomenon. Manufacturers have added it to clothing and other products for years; it also serves as a preservative and to prevent mildew while clothes and other items transit from factory to store.

“From a consumer perspective, you are very much in the dark in terms of what clothing is treated with,” David Andrews, a senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group, a research and advocacy organization, told The Times. “In many ways, you’re in the hands of the industry and those who are manufacturing our clothing. And we are trusting them to ensure they are using the safest materials and additives.”

No formaldehyde regulations for clothing

“The United States does not regulate formaldehyde levels in clothing, most of which is now made overseas. Nor does any government agency require manufacturers to disclose the use of the chemical on labels,” The Times reports. “So sensitive consumers may have a hard time avoiding it (though washing the clothes before wearing them helps).”

Although the study — which was carried out by the GAO as required by the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 — maintains that most consumers will never be affected by exposure to formaldehyde in fabrics, and claims that contact dermatitis (an allergic reaction that can causing itching, redness and blisters) is the worst case scenario, formaldehyde can pose serious health consequences for people who work with it in factories. 

Formaldehyde levels on the decline in factories

There has been a decline formaldehyde levels in factories over the last several decades, says The Times “largely as a byproduct of regulations protecting factory workers at risk of inhaling the chemical and improved resins.” After all, formaldehyde is a known carcinogen.

So why would we want it touching our skin? In the very least, manufacturers should clearly label products containing formaldehyde. And “some critics are calling for more studies on a broader range of textiles and clothing chemicals, as well a closer look at the effects of cumulative exposure,” The Times says.  

“Given all of the things we buy new that can release formaldehyde in our house, all of those things contribute,” Urvashi Rangan, director of technical policy at Consumers Union told The Times, also noting that the Environmental Protection Agency is currently developing formaldehyde emissions regulations for pressed-wood products. “Over all, minimizing your exposure is a good idea.”

And as for wrinkles, do we really need chemicals to smooth them away? What’s wrong with a good, old-fashioned iron?






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Photo by: Rev Stan

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11:03AM PDT on May 22, 2013

Ironing is better than having Formaldehyde in clothing

11:53AM PDT on Jul 30, 2012

What is wrong with us that we are so in love with all this nasty stuff....can we but just rewind the tape here and return to basic sanity....

5:55AM PDT on Jun 12, 2011


12:52PM PDT on Mar 27, 2011

Every article of clothing coming from a factory is sprayed with formaldehyde to preserve it. Every product, such as lotions, shampoo and conditioner, hair spray, soaps, dish soap, etc. have formaldehyde in it. If you dont recognize the ingredients look for formaldehyde donors such as polyquaternium, DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, imadazolidinyl urea. These are the most common and will be found in every product you have unless its a 100% natural. Look for yourselves, the effects are all the same, its a skin irritant and a carcinogenic. Garnier Fructis, Aveeno, Herbal Essences, Johnson & Johnson, Loreal, Dove & Olay liquid body wash, etc. All have it, I dare you take a look!!! ever notice your itchy or have a rash?! No wonder. I have done lots of research for personal reasons, I know alot of scary info about formaldehyde!

9:44AM PST on Jan 5, 2011

Unfortunately it is probably in and on more than just clothing and carpets, drapes, etc. The chemical industry is a giant, with so little regulation, and even less to come now that the big business (less regulation and oversight ) Republican Tea party is taking over our country.

7:11PM PST on Jan 4, 2011

thanks for the information. something i did not know.

7:35AM PST on Dec 22, 2010

I find it interesting how these stories can worry people and possibly make them be more cautious about the clothing they wear. But what about the other unhealthy things people do to themselves on a daily basis and think nothing of it. Smoking, drugs, alcohol etc. Just a thought.

2:53PM PST on Dec 21, 2010

thank you

9:51AM PST on Dec 19, 2010

My ex husband couldn't even try on new clothes that touched his skin because of this. We had to wash everything new before he put it on or he'd break out in an instant rash.

3:00PM PST on Dec 18, 2010

Thanks for the info

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