Formaldehyde in Wrinkle Resistant Fabrics

Two Cairn terriers sitting in the grass.

This year for Mother’s Day, my boys very thoughtfully got me a pretty, new set of sheets for the bed.  As I opened the plastic to remove the sheets, I quickly had to set them down because of the itchy red rash I got from touching them.  Not only did they cause redness and itching, but they had a very strong chemical odor to them.

Not sure of what was going on, I checked the packaging and saw that these were “wrinkle resistant” sheets.  I Googled the term and found that what makes a fabric, in this case cotton, wrinkle resistant isn’t the way it is woven (as I had thought) but that the fibers are infused with formaldehyde to cause them to swell and not bend as easily.

I know that formaldehyde can be used in the sizing on fabrics to make them appear crisp when displayed, but I hadn’t known it was bonded to the fibers over something as unimportant as wrinkling.  Formaldehyde can cause skin irritation, breathing difficulties and of course it is a carcinogen.  Since formaldehyde is absorbed through the skin, every time you lie on treated sheets or wear wrinkle resistant clothing, you are exposing yourself to this poison.  Sadly, there is no government regulation requiring disclosure for formaldehyde use.

A big concern should be our children and grandchildren being exposed this chemical.  As a parent, I would not have given a second thought to the term “wrinkle resistant” on my child’s sheets – I would have chosen a print he/she would enjoy.  I would be horrified to find that I had exposed someone I love to something so dangerous.  And don’t forget our furkids.  If your pup or kitty sleeps in the bed with you, they are also breathing and touching carcinogens.

Fortunately there are a number of companies who still sell regular cotton sheets at pretty reasonable prices.  Cotton can be treated with a lot of pesticides as it is grown, so if this a concern look for organic sheets manufactured in the US.  Organic regulations are more strictly enforced for domestic products than foreign ones.

So, if you are making a purchase of bedding or clothing, please be aware of what might be coming home with you uninvited.

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