You may have noticed that when you order new clothes online, there can be a distinct toxic or “chemical-like” smell emanating from the packaging and clothes. It can be really disconcerting and for some even nauseating. The source of this smell is formaldehyde. Read more...
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Why do clothes smell when I buy them online?
You may have noticed that when you order new clothes online, there can be a distinct toxic or “chemical-like” smell emanating from the packaging and clothes. It can be really disconcerting and for some even nauseating. The source of this smell is formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is added to clothing items in an attempt to maintain their clean look after manufacturing (preventing stains), add to wrinkle resistance, improve color fastness, reduced static, and reduce the tendency for mildew. For clothes manufactured abroad in particular, there is a long journey from the manufacturer to the stores or your home, and adding formaldehyde is a way to protect the clothing along the way. When you purchase these items at a store, there is a good chance the smell has had a chance to air out a bit while on display making it less noticeable. Clothing purchases online come from a warehouse and still in its polybag, the formaldehyde is likely trapped in the packaging and the chemical-like odor can intensify.
What is formaldehyde?
Formaldehyde is a known allergen and can serve as a trigger for allergic contact dermatitis for the skin. This can present as rashes that appear eczematous in most cases but can also take other forms. There are cases of contact dermatitis appearing in other forms such as bruise-like patches, pigmented patches, pustules, purplish plaques, and target-like rashes. In higher concentrations, formaldehyde may be linked to laryngitis, asthma, and even respiratory cancers, in particular amongst those with occupational exposure.
Is it better to buy organic clothing to avoid this issue?
The solution is not to purchase “eco-friendly” textiles or “organic” cotton as these products when tested in one study demonstrated surprisingly higher levels of formaldehyde. This is likely because the term organic may only apply to the sourcing of the fibers in the garment but not to the processing that occurs afterward.
How can formaldehyde be removed from clothing?
Formaldehyde content is effectively reduced by washing clothing. There can be a reduction in formaldehyde content by about 25 to 75% after washing garments which makes this a simple step to take before wearing new clothing.
How can I avoid formaldehyde in clothing?
For my patients with a known reaction based on patch testing to formaldehyde or formaldehyde-releasing agents, I advise looking for buzzwords such as “static free”, “wrinkle resistant”, “stain resistant”, and “no-iron” and avoid these products as they likely have formaldehyde to contribute to these properties. Wash all garments and linens before use. Air out clothing that is difficult to wash. Baking soda can also be used to reduce the formaldehyde content in clothing, either by adding to the wash or sprinkling on clothes or upholstery and vacuuming out.