You probably wouldn't be shocked to find a few dust bunnies or even a moth or two in your closet, but did you know that formaldehyde might be lurking there too? People are sometimes surprised to learn that wrinkle-free clothing often contains formaldehyde. The formaldehyde in these garments can cause or irritate skin conditions, and formaldehyde in general is a known carcinogen that many people would rather avoid. If you've picked up a new shirt that boasts that it never needs ironing, you may want to take steps to try to reduce your formaldehyde exposure when wearing it.
Wrinkle-free clothing manufacturers know that you launder clothes regularly, and they plan for this. To allow their garments to maintain their wrinkle-releasing properties over time, they work very hard at bonding the formaldehyde to clothing fabric. Unfortunately, this makes it impossible to eliminate the formaldehyde completely. You can tackle the chemical smell and reduce the amount of formaldehyde a bit, but clothing treated with this chemical will always retain some of it.
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If you want to eliminate formaldehyde from your wardrobe completely, you'll need to buy natural or organic clothing that doesn't contain the chemical. This means avoiding wrinkle-free fabrics, so it may be time to hone your ironing skills. Another option is to buy your clothing secondhand. Used clothing that has been washed many times will contain fewer chemicals than a new garment.
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How to Remove Formaldehyde From Clothing
Step 1: Air It Out
Like other chemicals, formaldehyde needs time to off-gas. This won't reduce the amount of formaldehyde in the fabric, but it will help with any chemical odors.
- Hang the garment on a clothes hanger or clothesline. Hanging the garment outside is best, but a well-ventilated, breezy room with lots of sunlight will also work.
- Leave the clothing hanging for at least a few hours. Longer is better.
Step 2: Give It a Soak
Again, this step is more about getting rid of formaldehyde fumes. Some of the chemical may start to leech into the water, but soaking won't eliminate it.
- Fill your washing machine or sink with warm water.
- Add a generous amount of baking soda.
- Allow the garment to soak overnight.
Step 3: Wash the Garment
Washing your new clothes is a good way to eliminate odors and begin to remove the formaldehyde from your clothing. Remember, however, that one wash won't get rid of the tenacious formaldehyde. You may need to repeat the soaking and washing process several times before those with sensitive skin can wear the clothing without discomfort.
Wash your garment in the washing machine per the care label. Because the goal is to remove unwanted chemicals, it's best to use a green laundry detergent that's free of harsh dyes and other chemicals.
Pay attention to your washing machine and add 1 cup of distilled white vinegar to the laundry as it begins the rinse cycle. Let the clothes soak in the vinegar for about an hour before letting the washing machine finish.
Dry the garment outside on a clothesline in direct sunlight if you can. If not, dry it on the lowest temperature setting possible.
Avoid storing formaldehyde-containing clothing in airtight containers, such as plastic storage tubs, as plastic does not allow the material to breathe, keeping formaldehyde or other chemicals trapped in the fabric. Air out synthetic materials as often as possible in a well-ventilated area to allow the chemicals to dissipate.