Formaldehyde – a compound with a distinctive, pungent odor – is a common industrial chemical used in various products, including clothing. Formaldehyde in clothing serves several purposes, such as preventing shrinkage, reducing wrinkling, and enhancing colorfastness. However, concerns have been raised about the potential health risks associated with formaldehyde exposure through clothing.

In this article, the product liability lawyers at Kherkher Garcia delve into the question: Is formaldehyde in clothing dangerous? To assess possible answers, we must consider what formaldehyde is, why it is used, and what potential health risks exist.

Understanding Formaldehyde

Formaldehyde, with the chemical formula CH2O, is a simple organic compound. It occurs naturally in the environment and is produced by living organisms as part of metabolic processes. Additionally, formaldehyde is synthesized industrially for various applications, ranging from manufacturing resins and plastics to serving as a disinfectant and preservative.

In textiles, formaldehyde-based resins are commonly used in fabric finishes to impart desirable properties. These finishes can help garments maintain their shape, resist wrinkles, and withstand the rigors of transportation and storage. Formaldehyde resins are particularly prevalent in clothing items such as wrinkle-resistant shirts, permanent-press fabrics, and certain types of dyes.

Why is Formaldehyde Used in Clothing?

Formaldehyde is used in clothing for several reasons, primarily related to enhancing the properties and performance of textiles. Some of the key purposes for which formaldehyde is employed in clothing include:

Wrinkle Resistance

Formaldehyde-based resins are commonly used in fabric finishes to impart wrinkle resistance to clothing. These resins cross-link with fibers, creating a more stable structure that resists wrinkling, thus keeping garments looking smooth and neat even after prolonged wear or storage.

Shrinkage Prevention

Formaldehyde treatments can help prevent fabrics from shrinking when exposed to water or heat during washing or drying. By cross-linking with the fibers, formaldehyde resins stabilize the fabric structure, reducing the likelihood of shrinkage and maintaining the garment’s original size and shape.

Color Retention

Formaldehyde-based treatments can improve the colorfastness of textiles, helping to preserve vibrant colors and prevent fading over time. By bonding with the fabric fibers, formaldehyde resins can enhance the adherence of dyes, ensuring that the colors remain vivid and durable through repeated washings and exposure to sunlight.

Durability and Longevity

Formaldehyde-treated textiles tend to exhibit increased durability and longevity due to the strengthening effect of the cross-linked fibers. Garments treated with formaldehyde resins are less prone to wear and tear, resulting in longer-lasting clothing that retains its appearance and performance characteristics over time.

Transportation and Storage

Formaldehyde finishes can help protect clothing during transportation and storage by reducing the risk of creasing, wrinkling, and damage. Garments treated with formaldehyde are less likely to develop permanent creases or folds, making them easier to handle and maintain during distribution and retail display.

Despite these benefits, it is important to note that formaldehyde usage in clothing has raised concerns regarding potential health risks associated with exposure to this chemical. Prolonged and excessive exposure to formaldehyde, whether through inhalation, skin contact, or ingestion, can lead to irritation, allergic reactions, and in severe cases, may increase the risk of certain health conditions, including cancer.

Potential Health Risks of Formaldehyde in Clothing

While formaldehyde is a ubiquitous substance, excessive exposure can pose health risks. The primary concern stems from formaldehyde’s classification as a known human carcinogen by authoritative bodies such as the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a branch of the World Health Organization (WHO). Formaldehyde exposure can pose various health risks, depending on the level and duration of exposure, as well as individual sensitivity. Some of the primary health risks associated with formaldehyde exposure include:

Respiratory Irritation

Inhalation of formaldehyde vapors can irritate the respiratory tract, leading to symptoms such as coughing, wheezing, chest tightness, and throat irritation. Individuals with asthma or other pre-existing respiratory conditions may experience exacerbated symptoms upon exposure to formaldehyde.

Skin Irritation and Sensitization

Direct contact with formaldehyde-containing materials can cause skin irritation, redness, itching, and dermatitis. Prolonged or repeated exposure may lead to sensitization, where the skin becomes increasingly reactive to formaldehyde, resulting in more severe allergic reactions upon subsequent contact.

Eye Irritation

Formaldehyde vapors can irritate the eyes, causing redness, tearing, burning sensations, and blurred vision. Prolonged exposure may damage the cornea and exacerbate underlying eye conditions, such as conjunctivitis or dry eye syndrome.

Allergic Reactions

Some individuals may develop allergic reactions to formaldehyde, characterized by symptoms such as skin rash, hives, nasal congestion, sneezing, and difficulty breathing. Allergic reactions to formaldehyde can range from mild to severe and may require medical intervention, especially in cases of anaphylaxis.


Formaldehyde is classified as a known human carcinogen by authoritative bodies such as the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). Prolonged and high-level exposure to formaldehyde has been linked to an increased risk of certain cancers, including nasopharyngeal cancer, sinonasal cancer, and leukemia. Occupational exposure, particularly in industries such as manufacturing, healthcare, and laboratory work, may pose a higher risk of cancer development.

Systemic Effects

Chronic exposure to formaldehyde may have systemic effects on the body, affecting various organ systems and physiological processes. Studies have suggested potential links between formaldehyde exposure and adverse effects on the nervous system, immune system, reproductive system, and cardiovascular system. However, further research is needed to fully understand the extent of these effects and their mechanisms.

It is important to note that the severity of health effects from formaldehyde exposure can vary depending on factors such as concentration, duration, and individual susceptibility. Regulatory agencies and health organizations have established exposure limits and safety guidelines for formaldehyde in occupational settings and consumer products to minimize risks to human health.

Regulation and Safety Standards

Given the potential health risks associated with formaldehyde exposure, regulatory agencies around the world have established limits and safety standards for its presence in consumer products, including textiles. For instance, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates formaldehyde emissions from composite wood products, while the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) sets permissible exposure limits for formaldehyde in occupational settings.

In the realm of textiles, various countries have implemented regulations governing formaldehyde content in clothing and fabrics. These regulations often include limits on formaldehyde concentration in finished products or establish testing protocols to ensure compliance with safety standards. For example, the European Union’s REACH Regulation imposes restrictions on the use of formaldehyde in textiles and requires labeling of formaldehyde-treated products.

Mitigating Risks

To mitigate the potential risks associated with formaldehyde in clothing, consumers can take several proactive measures. Firstly, opting for natural fibers such as cotton, wool, and silk can reduce exposure to formaldehyde-based finishes commonly found in synthetic textiles. Natural fibers are less likely to undergo extensive chemical processing and are generally considered safer alternatives.

Additionally, washing new clothing items before wearing them can help remove residual formaldehyde and other chemical residues from the fabric. Washing garments with detergent and water, followed by thorough rinsing, can help diminish the concentration of potentially harmful substances. Air-drying washed clothing outdoors can further aid in dissipating any remaining chemical residues.

Furthermore, choosing clothing from reputable brands that prioritize product safety and transparency can provide consumers with assurance regarding the materials and processes used in garment production. Manufacturers adhering to stringent quality control measures and industry standards are more likely to produce clothing with lower levels of formaldehyde and other hazardous substances.

Have Questions about Formaldehyde Exposure and Your Legal Rights?

Do you have questions about formaldehyde in clothing, exposure injuries, and your legal rights? If so, contact Kherkher Garcia. Our lawyers help individuals who have injuries or illnesses due to negligence. If your injuries are due to formaldehyde exposure from a product or in your workplace, we can help you understand your legal rights and options you may have to pursue compensation.

To get answers to your questions, call us at 713-333-1030 for a free consultation. You can also reach out to us online via our website form or live chat feature.

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Jesus Garcia

Jesus Garcia

Founding Partner and Trial Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Injury Trial Lawyer and Founding Firm Partner Jesus Garcia. Jesus has been a practicing injury lawyer for more than 20 years. He has won $150 Million+ in Settlements and Verdicts for his clients. He is a force of nature in the courtroom and the trial lawyer you want on your side if you or a loved one have been seriously injured at work or on the road. Abogado Jesus Garcia is bilingual and passionate about being the voice in the courtroom for the spanish speaking community here in Houston, across the state of Texas, and throughout the Nation.

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