Like many things that shaped my new parenting experience, I found out quite by accident about washing my baby’s new clothes. When my daughter was a newborn, a visiting aunt said, “You know it’s important to wash her clothes before she wears them.”
Not thinking to ask why (it just made sense!) I put that into practice. Only later did I learn about the prevalence of formaldehyde in new clothes.
Formaldehyde is added to clothes for many reasons – to prevent wrinkling, resist mildew growth and stains, and to set in the color. Those who are most aware of environmental and health issues in the apparel industry are beginning talks on reducing or eliminating its use, but they’re far from being implemented across the board.
You can recognize formaldehyde by its chemical odor, which is more intense depending upon how much of it has been used in a given garment. Though for health reasons I’d advise you not to sniff it and just throw it in the laundry instead.
According to the CDC, breathing too much formaldehyde can cause sore throat, cough, scratchy eyes and nosebleeds. And prolonged exposure can cause cancer. Because formaldehyde is a carcinogen. But your colors will be brighter, so… tradeoff.
To eliminate as much formaldehyde as possible in your child’s clothing, and yours (you’re his parent, so your health is top priority too!):
- throw all new clothes in the washer, at least once.
- air dry them or hang outside after machine drying.
- dry-clean only clothes should be hung outside to dry
- keep washing them and/or hanging outside until you can’t detect the smell of formaldehyde (a sharp chemical smell)
- buy used clothes! wash these too to be safe, but likely the formaldehyde is mostly gone after it’s been cycled through one or more wearer.
As parents, it can be overwhelming to learn about the long list of potential health hazards facing ourselves and our kids. What’s helped me to navigate these is to take as much reasonable action as I’m inspired to do in any given moment. Throwing new clothes in the wash before wearing is a no-brainer for me.
To your health!