Formaldehyde, also known as methanal, is an organic compound which is naturally occurring. Formaldehyde can be described as a bit more complicated compared to other simple carbon compounds because it is able to adopt in numerous different forms. The most common form is in gas. Under this form, formaldehyde is flammable and has a strong odor.


depiction of a toxic and harmful formaldehyde in lab

Formaldehyde can be found in resins for composite wood products (particleboard, hardwood plywood and medium-density fiberboard), household items (paints, lacquers, coating, glues and permanent press fabrics), pesticides or fertilizers and also in consumer and cosmetic products like fabric softeners and dish washing liquids as preservatives.

This compound is also present in clothes since it is used to prevent wrinkles and mildew. It may be quite useful in preserving clothing materials since it can also increase stain resistance and colorfastness. Unfortunately, the presence of formaldehyde in clothes can cause problems for people.


skin irritation after exposure to clothes treated with formaldehyde

Here are some reasons why formaldehyde is not as good as it seems:

1. Formaldehyde is considered toxic in various countries

Formaldehyde is considered as a human carcinogen as declared by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Countries such as the US and Canada have declared this material as toxic.

2. Research proves dangers attached to formaldehyde

A recent study conducted by the US Environmental Protection Agency has revealed that the highest levels of formaldehyde can be detected in the air which is often released from popular consumer products like building materials and furnishings as well as in cleaning products.

A person who is exposed to airborne formaldehyde may experience respiratory problems like chest pains, bronchitis, coughing and wheezing.

3. Some people have known sensitivity to this carbon compound

People who are extremely sensitive to formaldehyde will experience nasty side effects even with low level exposure. Patients have reported dermatitis (skin rash or skin irritation) and runny nose or headache when they come in contact with products which contain formaldehyde.

Small amounts or minimal exposure to formaldehyde may not be as risky or toxic but people who are highly sensitive may be able to experience a number of side effects which can be quite serious or even debilitating in extreme cases.

The presence of formaldehyde in more items other than clothes can be very troublesome for people who are sensitive to chemicals in general since they will most likely suffer more from the exposure.

4. Ill-effects in general

Formaldehyde is known to cause ill effects to one’s health, even those who aren’t really allergic to the compound. It can cause irritation to the skin, throat, eyes and nose. Prolonged exposure may even result to certain types of cancers for some patients.

5. Long-term effects

Overexposure to this compound, especially for highly sensitive patients may lead to far more serious complications. Patients can possibly experience flu-like symptoms at the start but if the condition is not treated immediately, then it may lead to shock or even stroke.

Chronic or prolonged exposure to formaldehyde through inhaling can also cause severe side effects such as lesions in the lungs as well as labored breathing which can lead to long term damage to the lungs.

6. Pros and cons for clothing

Formaldehyde plays a big role in the clothing industry since it can be used to prevent mildew when transporting as well as minimize the presence of wrinkles. However, a notable number of consumers have reported experiencing headaches and sore throat when wearing new clothes without washing them.

In this case, the best way to minimize formaldehyde exposure is to give your new clothes a quick spin in the washer to get rid of traces of the substance.

7. Dangers to children

Children who may have been exposed to formaldehyde for an extended period of time will likely develop asthma or other similar medical conditions.

Clothing items with excessive formaldehyde is harmful especially to children because of their sensitive skin. Constant contact with such clothing items will cause dermatitis and other similar skin conditions.


  • Take the time to wash new clothes instead of wearing them right away. This precautionary measure will remove about 60% of formaldehyde from the clothing, which is great news for people with hypersensitive skin.
  • Smell the clothing first to check if they emit too much chemical scent.
  • Avoid items that are labeled “iron-free,” “wrinkle-free,” “stain resistant” or “permanent press” because there is a big possibility that they contain formaldehyde.

DISCLAIMER: The information presented on Cottonique is not, and will never be, intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. All content materials found on this site, from text, treatments, outcomes, charts, graphics, photographs, and study findings, are created and published for general informational purposes only. It should not, in any way, be construed as a standard of care to be followed by a user of the website. 

Thus, readers are encouraged to verify any information obtained from this website with other accurate references and review all information regarding any medical condition or treatment with their physician. As Cottonique strives to help those with allergies live with better days, the hypoallergenic apparel brand encourages everyone to always seek the advice of their physician or other qualified health providers with any questions they may have regarding a medical condition.


Lyn said:

We went on a Memorial Day picnic plates and napkins in the American flag design, from Walmart. My nose started itching at first then intensely itching then burning inside and out, then my boyfriends and my noses started running. It finally occurred to me it may be some chemical in these napkins?! We started using a towel I’d brought instead and the burning pain subsided. But my nose kept running and I got done congestion in my throat after the picnic. 7 hours later I have a headache and coldtime feeling in my sinuses and behind my eyes. So I googled this. I hope symptoms go away. It sounds like formaldehyde from these comments.

Tyler Douglas said:

I work a 9-5 desk job, and because the seat is so hard, I usually keep a rag up in there. Is there Formaldehyde in washcloths?

Please reply in email at

Ann said:

Does anyone know of any group advocating to get rid of formaldehyde in our clothing, especially bras and underwear??

ALice D said:

I had a severe allergic reaction to this chemical!! Severe and painful for almost 6 weeks now. Two rounds of very strong antibiotics and a strong creme. Painful and I have never been allergic to anything. It is a real concern. I now wash everything I wear or sleep on! Bought a pair of Michael Kors pants and wore before wearing. Dye wire off on my skin and then the rash started. Horrible. Almost put in hospital!

Rosanne said:

John Smith- I have spent the last month in the most physical distress I have ever experienced. Childbirth was an easier experience. I purchased a cashmere turtleneck and wore it prior to washing. I left the house and went to an appointment. I develeped allergic contact dermatitis which took over my life. The itchiness was unbearable. Maybe as you say it takes a larger amount to cause cancer, but do not dismiss the effects of formaldehyde out of hand. I am 52 years old and have never had any allergic reactions prior to this. I am 4 weeks into this ordeal. I am still a bit itchy though nowhere near as bad. My skin is thick and has redscaly patches. I think it will take at least another month for my skin to recover.

Anna Nim said:

I just love the people on here who say this Can’t Be True. Fk ya’ll.. just because YOU have no issue, doesn’t mean others don’t.. I am shocked. I thought it was just in new sheets and washed out the first time or two. I had NO idea it was long lasting!!!

Gita Endore said:

I used to buy Old Navy jeans. Sturdy and inexpensive. Now they have formaldehyde in them. I washed a pair 5 times and put it in the sun and left in in a plastic tub with baking soda, borax and vinegar- all internet suggestions. I took it back to the store. They were reluctant (understatement) to take them back until I showed them a commentary from a gal who worked in Old Navy and had to wash the formaldehyde off her hands every night after work.

I have tried Levis and now LL Bean. Same problem. Don’t know where I’m going to find more jeans which I wear daily.

Lorrie said:

I have sensitive skin and am highly allergic to pretty much everything in nature. I recently discovered that I am allergic to the formaldehyde (and likely other additives) in clothes specifically from Walmart. I was a huge fan of their tank tops (they sell for $1.68) and wore them under everything, to bed, to my detriment. After eventually breaking out in lesions, I started steaming my clothes to my horror. It all came together when a cashier had to call a supervisor to ring up clothing purchases due to her allergy. I understand that products from China are shipped, warehoused, and cheap. It never occurred to me that formaldehyde, stain resistance, mildew resistance, pesticides, and chemicals for wrinkle free went into the mix. I remember using Dreft on baby clothes- why stop now?! I just wish there were standards, limitations, and more general knowledge like this so we as consumers can make educated choices and minimize risk. Thanks so much!

Charlotte Stowe said:

I react very badly to clothing from China, intense itching, needle-prick sensations and skin crawling. I’m constantly being told it’s just an allergy to Formaldehyde. I’m convinced there is something in the cotton. Please have a look at my YouTube clip, type in Morgellons bird mites body bugs
You’ll see what I mean
Charlotte Stowe

CJ said:

John Smith — Commercial formaldehyde is produced principally by the vapour-phase oxidation of methanol and is commonly sold as Formalin — a straight-out petrochemical with major health risks. There is not enough naturally occurring formaldehyde, much less ways to capture it, to use for all the things discussed above.

Vivian M Swenson said:

After searching how to get rid of smells in new clothes, I find that it may not have been just “scents” which I have blamed the past few years for my new allergies. I got new appliances that still “stink” after 9 mos. I had gotten some new sheets (from India) that stink much like the appliances. Unfortunately none of the suggestions for removing the smell from clothe works on the appliances. I feel ANY item that has been treated with formaldehyde should have warning in bold letters placed on the item. I had no idea that my breathing problems were caused by these smells.

Pitt Chao said:

Formaldehyde Emission Climate Test Chamber(TU350) applies for the measurement of formaldehyde emission in a man-made board, compound wood floor, carpet, carpet liner, carpet adhesive, and other indoor decorating materials. It can also process wood and man-made board with constant temperature and humidity technology. Other harmful gas from construction materials can also be detected as well. It might provide you with some help.

Joan LangleyJomy Mes said:

My message should have red i developed an allergy due to formaldehyde

Joan Langley said:

I developed an all3 after taking possession of a new fiat car three years ago and have just discovered all the illnesses I’ve had is due to formaldehyde in the interior .i will never recover .

mark b said:

I have a high sensitivity to toxic chemicals. Carpet fumes are the worst, and this is closely followed by new clothes, even paint fumes are less bad. I’ve read it’s mainly formaldehyde and also pesticides, I don’t know for sure. I’m interested, John Smith, if its true formaldehyde is simply something natural in the human body and apples. None of this is rocket science, over-exposure to chemicals we’re not particularly evolved to deal with, petrochemicals for example (natural but not something we would naturally interact with) , makes a minority of people like me immediately ill, and we’re the canaries that sound the warning for people with stronger constitutions who get cancer or some other illness after a lifetime of exposure to toxins in furniture, clothes, painting and decoration etc. I I imagine people who constantly buy new clothes, redecorate and buy new furnishings are at higher risk. It’s also scary the amount of toxic chemical crap in children’s clothes and toys which are replaced very often. I’m sure a John Smith around 1500 argued that lead free make-up was unnecessary because lead was simply a natural product .

Sue said:

I had the same problem with M & S chinos as Angie. Contact dermatitis on lower legs, caused almost certainly by formaldehyde in the trousers. I’ve never had any problem with new clothing before, but will always wash any new trousers now before I wear them.

Loree said:

Hi Monna😊
Could you put the 7 reasons or put the links where you found Information?
I knew about Johnson & Johnson but not the clothes.
Thanks in advance 😊

Monna Ellithorpe said:

Hello and thank you for this article. I’ve just come to notice this odor in the last few months. I bought a new shirt and didn’t wash it before I wore it. No problems, no smell or anything. I wore it a couple of times and threw it in the laundry hamper. I washed all of the clothes in the basket and noticed this terrible sickening odor (very close to causing emesis). I still didn’t realize what was causing it but I washed that same load of clothes about 6 times with vinegar, double rinsing, extra detergent and even went to my daughters to use another washer.

I narrowed it down to the one shirt and threw it out on the patio (which I believe is still there). I ended up throwing away all of the other clothes that I had washed with it.

I decide to stop into my favorite store yesterday where I get the larger sizes and I was almost knocked down by the same odor that I had with that shirt. Again, I didn’t think too much about it and didn’t connect the two (I’m dense sometimes). I went into the dressing room to try on the clothes I had picked out and started coughing and gagging and sweating. I had tried on 2 pair of paints and decided not to get them. I bought a shirt and the smell was still with me.

The shirt is still closed up in the store bag and I’ll be taking the shirt back to the store and probably wear one of those white masks when I do. I don’t remember ever being so sensitive to anything like this but I’ve developed quite a few allergies as I’ve gotten older and this is another one I’ll have to find a way around.

Sohan said:

Nice article. It gives good information of the use of formaldehyde. Good read. Keep posting such articles.

living example said:

ok John Smith, the writer isnt trying to scare people about the truth. you must be one of these terrible people that own a slave factory in China that produces this crappy ass clothes. I bet you won’t wear it. only poor people can afford this crap. this article is 100% true. Mr John Smith show me your statistics

Dave Hunter said:

John Smith, formaldehyde is added to clothing made in foreign countries to prevent the clothes getting moldy during shipping. People who never had reactions to clothing made in the US have reactions (even just from walking through a store) to the formaldehyde in clothing, as well as toxic chemicals in dyes and plastics, latex, and spandex. I myself have had many reactions (including inability to take a good breath) after being exposed to current clothing which comes from China, Bangladesh, etc. Why would these people even have a business at all unless consumers needed their products? Suggesting they’re attempting to scare people into buying their clothing is absurd.

John Smith said:

stop perpetrating false information and provoking fear into consumers in order to help sell t-shirts. the amount of formaldehyde required to have any long term effect or cause cancer is insignificantly huge not what one gets with a t-shirt. And over 90% of formaldehyde is produced naturally whether its through the use of amino acids in the human body or produced naturally by fruit such apples.

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