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Formaldehyde in clothing

Dealing with formaldehyde safely.

Formaldehyde: the basics

Formaldehyde is a naturally occurring substance in our atmosphere. It is emitted by animals and humans as a by-product of digestion, and it is created during combustion. It can be found in smoke from fires, smog, tobacco smoke and vehicular exhaust fumes.

In more concentrated forms, formaldehyde is used in a number of industrial processes in a variety of industries, including the textile industry. Formaldehyde is generally used to give a permanent press effect to clothing, to increase stain resistance and for colour fasting. It is also used to keep garments looking new and fresh while in transit, and to retard mildew growth.

Dealing with formaldehyde safely

Trading Standards is advising people that it is good practice for new, washable garments to be thoroughly washed and aired, preferably outside, before use, and for new clothes labelled as "dry-clean only" to be thoroughly aired before use.

The most common effect is skin irritation. Contact your GP if you are concerned about symptoms that you think may be due to formaldehyde.

Questions and answers about formaldehyde in clothing

What is formaldehyde?

Formaldehyde is a naturally occurring substance in our atmosphere. It is emitted by animals and humans as a by-product of digestion, and it is created during combustion. It can be found in smoke from fires, smog, tobacco smoke and vehicular exhaust fumes.

In more concentrated forms, formaldehyde is used in a number of industrial processes in a variety of industries, including the textile industry.

Why is formaldehyde used in clothing?

Formaldehyde is generally used to give a permanent press effect to clothing, to increase stain resistance and for colour fasting. It is also used to keep garments looking new and fresh while in transit, and to retard mildew growth.

What can I do about any formaldehyde in the clothing I buy?

Trading Standards is advising people that it is good practice for new, washable garments to be thoroughly washed and aired, preferably outside, before use, and for new clothes labelled as "dry-clean only" to be thoroughly aired before use.

What are the possible health effects of formaldehyde used on clothing?

The most common effect is skin irritation. 

What can I do if I am concerned about symptoms which I think may be due to formaldehyde?

Contact your GP. 

What is the Government doing about formaldehyde in clothing?

The Ministry of Consumer Affairs investigated the issue when it was raised in 2007. They tested clothing, and looked at how other countries dealt with formaldehyde in clothing. Their findings are given in the following media release and reports:

Last updated 14 November 2013
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