Trying to save energy by ditching the iron and wearing wrinkle-free shirts? Your new closet’s sadly not as green as you may have expected. Why? Formaldehyde’s what keeps your no-iron clothes unnaturally wrinkle-free. “Formaldehyde basically keeps the fabric’s fibers in place after a spin in the washing machine,” according to New York Times. “Without it, the fibers become wrinkled or creases may fade.”

And that formaldehyde is giving sensitive people skin problems. If you’ve had contact dermatitis — which NY Times reports “can cause itchy skin, rashes and blisters” — wrinkle-free clothing could be to blame.

Most people won’t develop skin problems with the low levels of formaldehyde used in wrinkle-free clothing, but most MNN readers already know formaldehyde’s a known carcinogen. I certainly don’t want to welcome the stuff into my closet. The problem is, formaldehyde’s difficult to avoid. Reports NY Times:

The United States does not regulate formaldehyde levels in clothing, most of which is now made overseas. Nor does any government agency require manufacturers to disclose the use of the chemical on labels. So sensitive consumers may have a hard time avoiding it (though washing the clothes before wearing them helps).
So what’s an eco-fashionista — or simply someone who’s prone to skin rashes — do? My suggestions:

1. Don’t buy “wrinkle-free” or “easy care” clothing or linens. The no-iron stuff most certainly has formaldehyde in it, so getting to know your iron is your first line of defense.

2. Wash clothes before wearing them. Since labeling isn’t required for formaldehyde-treated clothes, I’d stay on the safe side by washing any item you buy before putting it on. A lot of the formaldehyde washes out even after one wash.

3. Buy used. Pre-loved fashions can be good for your environmental health — since they’ve likely shed most of the chemicals they were treated with on someone else! I still recommend giving used clothing a wash before wearing them, however, lest you get bedbugs!

I’ve never actually bought any item marketed as wrinkle-free even before I knew about this formaldehyde issue — simply because wrinkle-free seemed unnatural to me, so I suspected nasty chemicals might be involved. But I’m wondering if other environmentalists specifically picked out wrinkle-free clothes to avoid energy and time wasted ironing. Do you have wrinkle-free shirts in your closet?

Formaldehyde in wrinkle-free clothes
Re-embrace the iron. Wrinkle-free clothes are treated with formaldehyde, which can cause health problems for people with sensitive skin.