Wash and then wear; unwashed clothes may have formaldehyde

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Formaldehyde in new clothes. Oh great! What next? Help!

Mind you, I can also get the same issue with certain detergents and thus have to wash everything first, even if not new and washed before...

Buying new clothes can be exciting, and some people seemingly cannot be bothered with what to them appears to be wasteful practice of washing new clothes before wearing them.

However, many people experience headaches and a sore throats after putting on new garments without washing them first and their impatience may be the cause. A simple spin in the washer would get rid of the chemicals commonly used to keep new clothes looking, well, new.

Substances like formaldehyde and many other allergenic compounds are used in fabrics for a variety of reasons, such as to help them resist wrinkles and shrinkage. Since just one wash can eliminate or reduce levels of a number of these substances it is a good idea to always wash new clothes that will be worn against the skin before you put them on.

The U.S. Does not regulate formaldehyde levels in clothing, nor does it seem to regulate that chemical much anywhere else, for that matter. Certain other countries do, however, and a recent report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office noted that levels in textile products they tested here in the U.S. met the most rigorous standards established elsewhere – about 75 parts per million for items that are in direct contact with the skin.

But that might not be enough for some people. By some estimates, about 9 percent of the U.S. population is so sensitive to formaldehyde that even low level exposures could be enough to set off an uncomfortable rash, or a severe allergic reaction. And a few items GAO tested did reach as high as 200 ppm. According to the GAO report, allergic contact dermatitis characteristic of formaldehyde exposure includes redness, swelling, blisters and flaky dry skin that can burn or itch.

Some people, such as myself, also have a problem with laundry detergents and for those that do have a somewhat sensitive skin it might be advisable to not use a biological laundry detergent but a non-bio and to wash anything they buy, even second-hand shirts from Charity Shops, for instance, who have been laundered, before wearing the clothes.

Always best err on the side of caution.

© 2010