Formaldehyde treated sheets
May 22, 2008 5:35 PM   Subscribe

Lately we have been buying no-iron sheets because they are so soft and do not require ironing. Now we hear that they are treated with formaldehyde. Lands' End says: "The fabric is treated at a fiber level with a no-wrinkle finishing process that is deemed so safe it's commonly used for children’s clothing" but they don't mention formaldehyde. Should we be concerned?
posted by retiree to Health & Fitness (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I would say you probably shouldn't be concerned. Firstly, while your sheets have been treated with formaldehyde, that doesn't mean they still contain formaldehyde. When you get your clothes dry cleaned, they use Tetrachloroethylene which is pretty nasty stuff, and possibly a carcinogen. But there's none left on the clothing when they give it back to you. I imagine it would be the same situation with your sheets. Formaldehyde is very soluble in water, so it sounds like the sort of thing that would easily be washed away.
posted by Jimbob at 5:48 PM on May 22, 2008

What about environmental impacts, though? That formaldehyde and/or tetrachlorethylene has to go somewhere - in fact, aren't dry cleaners changing their processes to be more environmentally friendly?
posted by amtho at 6:10 PM on May 22, 2008

True; I made the assumption the OP was concerned about immediate health impacts, rather than wider environmental impact.
posted by Jimbob at 6:17 PM on May 22, 2008

so safe it's commonly used for children’s clothing

I'm not sure that's a reliable indication of safety. There seems to be some concern about children's clothing treatments - this is one among many articles I've found about garments containing the chemical, though most seem to appear in the UK/AU/NZ press rather than US for some reason.. There is a lot available if you google "fabric + formaldehyde" and like searches, but so far I've found it hard to find a source I would consider both definitive and bias-free. There are a lot of chemical industry sites touting wrinkle-free fabric and formaldehyde at "negligible levels," and a lot of handwringing organic-lifestyle sites that say it's the devil's work.

It would concern me, personally, and perhaps you should call Lands End customer service to enquire specifically about their coy description of the treatment. But on the other hand I know that our homes are already full of formaldehyde [PDF], so perhaps I'm a victim of hysteria. For softness, have you ever tried Jersey knit sheets?
posted by Miko at 7:02 PM on May 22, 2008

I think you are talking specifically about textile formaldehyde resins which are in fact integrated into the fabric, can release formaldehyde, and can cause skin reactions in the susceptible. Source.

How much you should worry about formaldehyde resins and residual formaldehyde from the same is a subject of debate, as these resins are extremely ubiquitous (they are very common in composite building materials like plywood, for instance). Formaldehyde is a suspected carcinogen and it is toxic. I don't think there is good epidemiological evidence that it is harmful to people, in general, at the levels of ordinary exposure, but people who believe in environmental sensitivity consider it to be a serious culprit.
posted by nanojath at 11:00 AM on May 23, 2008

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