Wash handmade items before using or giving as gifts? Yes! Part 1: Fabrics

This is Part 1 of my research, addressing why it's necessary to wash fabrics before using or giving as gifts.  (Click here for Part 2: Yarns & Fibers)

Cotton Field
The question on chemicals (specifically, for purposes of this article, formaldehyde) in fabrics, and the allergies and health problems they cause, arose from researching bird nesting materials, and finding that

dryer lint is harmful to use as nesting material for birds, no matter what it's composition.  (See:  From Yarn Scraps to Bird's Nests, Part 2 for more information).

There is no practical space to address other chemicals in clothing, some of which are equally or even more toxic, so I will stick to formaldehyde.  It is more than enough to support the need for laundering, in my opinion.

(For information on other chemicals, O Ecotextiles' article, Chemicals used in textile processing stood out).
I am not an expert, so I get my information from experts, and cite all my sources.  Personally, I'm not going to argue with the experts.  First, they are more knowledgeable on these subjects than I am, and second, I don't have the energy.  But if you've a mind to argue with them, I fully support your right in doing so!

Got Formaldehyde?  T Shirt
Photo from O Ecotextiles
Click for article

Clothes, sheets, and towels that you wash and dry contain formaldehyde (among other toxic chemicals)*

* This does not apply to "certified organic" fabrics, although you must be sure of the certification source.

100% cotton wrinkles.  If it doesn't, it contains formaldehyde.  (This applies to any fabric that is termed permanent press, wrinkle resistant or wrinkle free).


According to DermNet NZ, in their article, Formaldehyde Allergy:
Sources of Formaldehyde are in the following fabrics:
  • Permanent press
  • Anti-cling, anti-static, anti-wrinkle and anti-shrink finishes
  • Chlorine-resistant finishes
  • Stiffening on lightweight nylon knits
  • Waterproof finishes
  • Perspiration proof finishes
  • Moth proof and mildew resistant finishes
  • Suede and chamois
According to Natural News, in their article, Beware of hidden toxin sources in new clothes - Always wash them before wearing
  • After clothes are made, they are often covered with formaldehyde to keep them from wrinkling or becoming mildewed during shipping.   
  • ...Investigations have discovered up to 500 times the safe level of formaldehyde in clothing shipped to brand name clothiers form factories in China and Southeast Asia.  
  • ...Formaldehyde and other toxic chemicals are used to create synthetic fibers for towels and bedding. Textile toxins are hard to avoid even when you're out of your clothes.  
  • Another commonly used clothing chemical is nonylphenol ehtoxylate (NPE). NPE use is restricted in most regions where the big name brand clothes are sold. But there are no restrictions where the clothing factories are located in China and Southeast Asia. 14 big name brands get their clothing from clothing factories using NPE.
According to Natural Vitality Living, in their article, Are our kids sleeping in formaldehyde?:
  • ...Many of the chemicals bond with the material and don't wash out for many washes, if ever. 
  • ...sadly, conventional cotton crops rely heavily on pesticides.  1/3 pound of pesticides is used to grow enough cotton to produce one T-shirt.
The Wrap thoughts...
Bower Bird Nest
My thoughts are, in light of this information, that it is a no-brainer to wash fabrics first, since a lot of the shipping chemicals and formaldehyde go down the drain (which, if you think about it, is not a good thing, either).  Yes, formaldehyde and other chemicals still remain in the fabrics, even after many washings, but removing what is possible is the goal.

Choosing ones that are not wrinkle or stain resistant may be a better choice, if it's practical for the item being made.  Even though the fabric will still contain other chemicals, cutting out formaldehyde is better than nothing.  Of course, certified organic fabrics are best, if you can afford them.

We don't live in a chemical free world, and it's not practical or even obtainable to do so.  It's in paper, cosmetics, our carpets & padding, wall paper, paint, vinyl and hardwood flooring, insulation, the lumber is in our houses, in shingles, furniture & fabrics, pillows, in the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat.

It's overwhelming to have one more thing to worry about. So, what to do?  Take what tiny steps we can.  Become educated, and make the best decisions with the information we have.

Let me know what you think!

Your thoughts are always appreciated!