Formaldehyde? No thanks!

Formaldehyde? No thanks!

A recent issue of Consumer Reports, quoted by National Clothesline and the National Cleaners Association, reaffirms the industry’s long-held concerns with so-called “wrinkle-free” finishes on garments. On one hand, it has been proven that they reduce the life span of a cotton garment by 20 to 25 percent. And, more importantly, the fabric “continues to release low levels of formaldehyde throughout its lifetime.”

If the term “formaldehyde” sounds familiar, it is probably for all the wrong reasons… among others, it’s used for embalming, treating warts, various industrial processes, and it’s also one of the harmful ingredients in cigarettes. Certainly not the kind of stuff you want in contact with your skin!

Formaldehyde molecular structureAccording to National Clothesline:

The National Cleaners Association’s long-held concerns about the serviceability of cotton shirts with “wrinkle-free” finishes received support from Consumer Reports which said in its November issue that such finishes can reduce the life span of a cotton garment by 20 to 25 percent.

Nora Nealis, executive director of NCA, said she is pleased to see the consumer advocacy group bring the issue to the public’s attention.

“The drycleaning and laundry industry has been issuing alerts on this problem for a number of years,” Nealis said. “We’ve advised consumers that the serviceability issues they are having with their shirts is largely a result of the no-iron finishes.”

The problem lies with the formaldehyde resin finish used to create the wrinkle-free feature, said NCA’s Technical Director, Alan Spielvogel. The resin stiffens or locks in the yarns, then when the fabric bends, flexes or is abraded during wear, it is weakened to a point that it cannot safely withstand the laundering process, he explained.

Spielvogel, who is responsible for NCA’s garment analysis service, said he has also seen that the resin can trap residual chlorinated bleaching agents and acids used on the fabric in the dyeing process.

When that happens, hot water in the laundry wash cycle and heat in finishing activates and accelerates the harmful effects these residual chemicals have on textiles, resulting in a loss of tensile strength. Random holes and rips may occur after only a few launderings, Spielvogel said.

Despite many warnings about the shortened life span of the no-iron cotton shirts, NCA said it has become increasingly difficult for savvy consumers to find untreated shirts on the shelves in stores.

“When I go shopping, I always check out the shirt department, and I’ve found that most stores stock very few untreated cotton shirts, Nealis said. “I’ve learned to shop on line for them.”

“I think consumers need to be aware of all the ramifications of their shirt selection,” Nealis said. “Consumers who want to optimize the useful life of their shirts shoppers should tells retailers they want the resin-free, not wrinkle-free, option,” she advised.

The Consumer Reports statement was in response to a query from a reader who said he was confused by the various terms used to describe shirts: non-iron, wrinkle-free, wrinkle-resistant, and wrinkle-shed and wanted to know if it is really possible to get away with not ironing a dress shirt.

Consumer Reports responded that it is not aware of any standard definitions for those terms and their
use varies depending on the brand, retailer, and manufacturer.

“An informal review suggests that when removed from the dryer, ‘no-iron’ garments appear smoothest, followed by ‘wrinkle-free,’ then ‘easy care,’ which you’ll often find on blended cotton/poly fabrics,” the magazine said, then added, “Be aware that wrinkle-free finishes reduce the life span of a cotton garment by 20 to 25 percent.

Source: National Clothesline

icon-iron-crossed-outAs the National Clothesline article suggests, it’s increasingly hard to find non-treated shirts… Premium manufacturers such as Ledbury resort to naturally wrinkle-resistant fabrics and methods, and have also written insightful pieces about the “non-iron” trend (including a great infographic).