Formaldehyde in clothing

Formaldehyde is used in a variety of industries, including the textile industry. We recommend washing and airing new clothes before wearing them.

The basics

Formaldehyde is a naturally occurring substance in our atmosphere. It's emitted by animals and humans as a by-product of digestion, and created during combustion. It can be found in smoke from fires, smog, tobacco smoke and vehicular exhaust fumes.

In more concentrated forms, formaldehyde is used in a number of industrial processes in a variety of industries, including the textile industry. Formaldehyde is generally used to give a permanent press effect to clothing, to increase stain resistance and for colour-fastness. It's also used to keep garments looking new and fresh while in transit, and to retard mildew growth.

Dealing with formaldehyde safely

We advise that for new garments it's good practice to:

  • wash and air washable garments thoroughly before use — preferably outside
  • air new clothes labelled 'dry-clean only' thoroughly before use.

The most common effect is skin irritation. If you're concerned about symptoms that you think may be due to formaldehyde, contact your GP.

Government action on formaldehyde in clothing

Consumer Protection investigated the issue of formaldehyde in clothing when it was raised in 2007. They tested clothing, and looked at how other countries dealt the issue. As a result, government product safety policy statement was developed, setting acceptable limits for formaldehyde in clothing and textiles

See Formaldehyde in clothing and textiles product safety policy statement for more information.