7 Reasons why Formaldehyde in Clothing is Dangerous (and How to Protect Yourself)

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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.

Where Formaldehyde is Found

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.

Issues with Formaldehyde

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

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

Formaldehyde in Clothing

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.


How to protect yourself from the negative effects of formaldehyde

  • 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.

Image credit: B-D-S via Getty Images

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  • Contributor Maria M
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