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Formaldehyde In Clothing: How & Why To Go Formaldehyde Free

A topless woman faces away from the camera and wraps her arms around her back.

The smell of formaldehyde is permanently etched in my brain from Biology classes. You knew the days where you were going to dissect something, since that smell just permeated the hallways. And if you’ve ever taken an Anatomy class, well, formaldehyde doesn’t just remind you of dead frogs.

But did you know that formaldehyde is used in a variety of other things, like construction and textiles? Yep, there is often formaldehyde in clothing that we wear. Which is... not the best news.

But don’t worry! I’m here to help! I’ll answer how do you know if your clothes have formaldehyde, other than relying on the company’s fabric testing, what to do if you suspect formaldehyde in clothes, and why you should aim to go formaldehyde free. (Spoiler alert: buying eco-friendly products like your fave high waisted underwear or a racerback bralette is one way to avoid pesky chemicals!)

Keep reading for more about Formaldehyde in Clothing: How & Why To Go Formaldehyde Free.

The smell of formaldehyde is permanently etched in my brain from Biology classes. You knew the days where you were going to dissect something, since that smell just permeated the hallways. And if you’ve ever taken an Anatomy class, well, formaldehyde doesn’t just remind you of dead frogs.

But did you know that formaldehyde is used in a variety of other things, like construction and textiles? Yep, there is often formaldehyde in clothing that we wear. Which is... not the best news.

But don’t worry! I’m here to help! I’ll answer how do you know if your clothes have formaldehyde, other than relying on the company’s fabric testing, what to do if you suspect formaldehyde in clothes, and why you should aim to go formaldehyde free. (Spoiler alert: buying eco-friendly products like your fave high waisted underwear or a racerback bralette is one way to avoid pesky chemicals!)

Keep reading for more about Formaldehyde in Clothing: How & Why To Go Formaldehyde Free.

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Nude 3

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Sustainable Hemp Bralettes

Triangle Bralette
Black

$44

Racerback Bralette
Nude 3

$44

Racerback Bralette
Black

$44

Racerback
$24

Triangle Bralette
Nude 4

$44

Boy Shorts Underwear
$24

WHAT IS FORMALDEHYDE?

A woman blows a cloud of smoke into the air in front of mountains.

Formaldehyde is a gaseous pollutant produced by both human activity and natural sources. Besides being used as a preservative for dead bodies, it is often released into the air via power plants, manufacturing facilities, and car exhaust. As for the indoor air, formaldehyde usually comes from building materials, consumer products, and cigarette smoke.

Some consumer products that contain formaldehyde are resin for wood products, cleaning agents, carpets, cosmetics, insulation, furniture, vitamins, paints, preserved food, and, yep, certain types of clothing.

WHY IS THERE FORMALDEHYDE IN CLOTHING?

Formaldehyde is often added to clothes to make them wrinkle-resistant, to hold their shape, or to hold their colors. In addition, formaldehyde helps these clothes stay free of mold, mildew, and insects when the items are traveling here from abroad, like from China on a cargo ship.

HOW DO YOU KNOW IF YOUR CLOTHES HAVE FORMALDEHYDE?

A woman holds her sweatshirt up above her nose and looks into the camera.

The first thing to do is use your nose! That new car smell that some people love is actually what formaldehyde smells like on your new textiles. Yeah... kind of gross, huh?

If the fabric has also been treated to be stain-free or wrinkle-free, it has been treated with formaldehyde, even if you can’t smell it.

Something that’s also very commonly treated with formaldehyde is denim. Denim uses formaldehyde (and a whole host of other chemicals) to get that indigo color, and to keep that color as long as possible.

Finally, if your new item of clothing has that “Made in China” sticker, there is also a good chance it has formaldehyde, and over the healthy limits: one study in New Zealand, testing imported clothing from China, found formaldehyde levels at 900 times higher than the recommended safety limit.

Of course, that’s not always true, especially if it’s eco-friendly hemp in China being produced.

WHY TO GO FORMALDEHYDE FREE

A series of smoke stacks blow pollution into the air at sunset.

You should aim to avoid formaldehyde in clothing for two main reasons: it’s bad for you, and it’s bad for the environment. As discussed above, formaldehyde is already all around us, in the resin of furniture, in particle boards, in the air... so if there’s anything we can do to minimize formaldehyde for both ourselves and the planet, it’s a pretty good idea!

Here are some of the potential negative side effects of formaldehyde exposure and overexposure:

  • Increased flammability of clothes. As if we don’t have enough to worry about, do we really need to be wearing clothes that have a greater chance of bursting into flame??

  • Skin irritation. Such as itching, rashes, contact dermatitis, and even (rare) chemical burns.

  • Burning sensation in eyes, throat, nose and sinuses.

  • Coughing and more serious lung issues. As a carcinogen, it’s been known to cause cancers of the lung and nose/mouth.

  • Respiratory issues. Difficulty breathing, allergies, and even asthma.
  • Headaches. Often ones that are sudden and severe.

As if all of these reasons aren’t enough, formaldehyde can negatively impact the environment:

  • It’s highly toxic to aquatic life. If too much enters the water supply, it can upset the gentle balance of underwater ecosystems, killing off aquatic species.

  • It’s harmful to animals. It can cause illness, inability to breathe, and even death for animals that come in contact with it.

  • It can help cause acid rain. When released into the atmosphere, it breaks down quickly into formic acid, a component of acid rain.
  • It’s a major contributor to smog and air pollution. Formaldehyde is actually formed when sunlight interacts with smog, which increases the amounts of pollution in the air.

HOW TO GO FORMALDEHYDE FREE

Now, it may not be as easy to remove formaldehyde from the air for the everyday person, but it is possible to remove it when you have formaldehyde in your clothing. Here are a few things you can do!


1. WASH NEW CLOTHING

Dirty clothes sit inside the window portal of. awashing machine glowing in pink and blue light.

The answer to the eternal question of: should you wash underwear before wearing it is a resounding "yes." This step is easy for those of us whose mothers drilled this into their heads from age one, practically. It’s so ingrained in me I never even considered not washing new clothes before I wear them! Which, hey, thanks, Ma!

Washing with regular detergent should remove around 60% of the formaldehyde in clothes. If you want to increase this number, you can try a few other tricks:

  • Soak in baking soda. Add a cup of baking soda into water and soak your clothing overnight.

  • Hang outside to “gas out” for a day. Whip out that clothesline and hang the offending clothes outside, where the formaldehyde will be neutralized. Keep ‘em up for at least 12 hours! This one is also good because it helps gas out any other chemicals that may be present in your clothing.

  • Use special laundry detergent or additives. Step carefully here, as the goal is to remove chemicals, not accidentally add more!

  • Add vinegar to the laundry. Add a cup of white vinegar to your rinse cycle to help wash out formaldehyde better.

  • Add borax to the laundry. Ah, borax, the solution to pretty much everything in the laundry room, even formaldehyde in clothes! Add one cup of borax at the beginning of the load, with your usual detergent.

**Note: if you have sensitive skin or eczema, you may need to do these steps more than once!


2. AVOID ITEMS WITH CERTAIN LABELS

Several stacks of blue jeans of different washes are folded on a wooden shelf.

To avoid formaldahyde in clothing, watch out for clothing with labels like:

  • Wrinkle-resistant or anti-wrinkle
  • Permanent press
  • Stain free
  • Crease free
  • Easy care
  • Shrinkage free

Formaldehyde is the main reason clothes are labeled like above, so steer clear!

If you’re hoping for clothing that has extra benefits like sun protection in the form of a upf fabric, consider finding items that use fabrics that do this naturally and don’t need added chemicals, like hemp fabric.


3. BUY ECO-FRIENDLY CLOTHING

To avoid all of the hassle of formaldehyde in your clothes to begin with, buy clothes that will definitely not have added formaldehyde for any reason. Make sure to vet the company (I’ll tell you how) or, for another way to avoid formaldehyde, you can always shop secondhand.

First of all, brands like WAMA Underwear, that use natural, sustainable fabrics—hemp, yay!—are free of formaldehyde.

A woman with long dark hair wears a black hemp bra and panties and floral pink robe, standing in front of a white door.

WAMA Underwear and other hemp clothing brands, as well as other sustainable clothing brands, use environmentally-friendly practices, such as low impact dyes, in the making of fabric and clothes. A hemp bra might sound a little odd if you’ve never tried one, but once you put one against your skin, you’ll never go back!

When trying to avoid formaldehyde in clothing, make sure to check the labels to make sure the brand isn’t using any harmful chemicals. Keep an eye out for the OEKO-Tex Certification—more on that below!

OEKO-TEX CERTIFICATION

When you’re buying eco-friendly, it can be important to really check out the company to avoid any that may be “greenwashing” you (as in, throwing around words like “eco-friendly” without having any backing to these claims). One certification to look for when you’re trying to avoid formaldehyde in clothes is the OEKO-Tex Certification.

The OEKO-Tex Standard 100 means that a company’s products have been thoroughly evaluated for any harmful chemicals—including formaldehyde. They go over everything, from buttons to dyes, before certifying the brand. So when you’re trying to avoid formaldehyde, keep an eye out for the OEKO-Tex Certification!

 The torso of a tattooed person wearing a green hemp triangle bralette, their hands adjusting the band.

Oh, and heads up, WAMA Underwear has the OEKO-Tex 100, so you can be extra confident that your adored triangle bralette or hipster panties are free of harmful chemicals.

(P.S. If you’re giving a company the side-eye for potentially suspicious eco-friendly claims, OEKO-Tex has a label check, just in case. Not to mention, they have a Buying Guide, too!)

SHOP SECONDHAND

A woman in a brown straw hat holds up a pair of black underwear on a hanger, with a yellow house hung with clothes behind her.

Another way to buy eco-friendly clothing is to shop secondhand. Since these clothes have (hopefully) been washed multiple times, the formaldehyde amount will be much smaller. Plus, secondhand shopping is seriously fun—a treasure hunt, I’m telling ya!

Oh, and, it might go without saying, but... definitely wash these pre-loved, new-to-you clothes before wearing! An extra wash can’t hurt when it comes to getting rid of formaldehyde in clothing, anyway.

Sustainable Hemp Bralettes

Triangle Bralette
Black

$44

Racerback Bralette
Nude 3

$44

Racerback Bralette
Black

$44

Racerback
$24

Triangle Bralette
Nude 4

$44

Boy Shorts Underwear
$24

Sustainable Hemp Bralettes

Racerback Bralette
Black

$44

Triangle Bralette
Nude 4

$44


IN CONCLUSION: LIVE THAT FORMALDEHYDE FREE LIFE

A woman with purple hair smiles and throws up peace signs while modeling black hemp underwear and a black crop top.

Formaldahyde in clothing may sound worrisome at first—but there’s no need to panic! Making sure to wash your clothing, avoiding certain types of clothing, and investing in eco-friendly clothes will make it easy for you to pursue the formaldehyde free life of your dreams.

Well, dreams you didn’t even know you had until you discovered that there can be formaldehyde in clothes. Knowledge is power, right?

So, do you always wash your new clothes before you wear them? And will you now? Share below!




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