Mom Detective: Is There Formaldehyde in Your Bedsheets?

BY ON October 13, 2015

Woman in bed with white sheets

We are a culture obsessed with being wrinkle-free. Take a minute to Google ‘wrinkle-free’ and a long list of products will pop up, ranging from clothing to sheets. Buying wrinkle-free takes the time, elbow grease and the heat out of ironing. Our busy lifestyles make anything that will save us a few extra minutes seem more desirable. Thus, the demand for wrinkle-free products. No ironing required.

As one store shares on its website:

“If you love the pristine look of freshly pressed sheets but don’t want to spend time ironing, our wrinkle-free sheets are a dream come true.”

What makes something wrinkle-free?

I contacted the store promoting these wrinkle-free sheets to ask what makes their sheets wrinkle-free. Initially they claimed their sheets are made from a wrinkle-resistant cotton which is not treated with any chemicals. After digging a little deeper they disclosed that the “wrinkle-resistant cotton” used to make the sheets is chemically treated.

Most wrinkle-free or wrinkle resistant sheets are “finished” with a chemical process to keep them from wrinkling. That chemical process generally includes the use of formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is predominantly used as an embalming fluid — as a way to preserve something. I have a distinct memory of a formaldehyde smell from high school biology when we used it to preserve frogs. Formaldehyde is also used to make clothing wrinkle-free and stain resistant by either soaking the fabric in formaldehyde or exposing the fabric to formaldehyde gases — then baking the fabric at 300 degrees Fahrenheit. This process prevents the fibers in the fabric from wrinkling after being washed.

Unfortunately, the use of formaldehyde and other chemicals doesn’t have to be disclosed anywhere on the product label. The scary truth is that the government doesn’t regulate formaldehyde levels in bedding. There’s no requirement to disclose to the consumer when formaldehyde is used.

The problem with formaldehyde.

The use of, and exposure to formaldehyde produces a laundry list of possible health hazards including watery eyes; burning sensations in the eyes, nose, and throat — coughing, wheezing, nausea, and skin irritation.

In 1987, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

“…classified formaldehyde as a probable human carcinogen under conditions of unusually high or prolonged exposure. Since that time, some studies of humans have suggested that formaldehyde exposure is associated with certain types of cancer. “

In 2011, the National Toxicology Program, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, classified formaldehyde as a known human carcinogen.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’s annual Time Use Survey, Americans aged 15 and over sleep about  8 hours and 45 minutes each night. While a good night’s sleep is crucial, being exposed to “wrinkle-free” bedding treated with formaldehyde for almost 9 hours a night is worrisome. There’s no denying that any exposure to a known carcinogen can increase your risk of cancer.

Precautions and options to avoid exposure to formaldehyde treated bedding:
  • Don’t buy wrinkle-free bedding.
  • Purchase organic bedding.
  • ALWAYS wash new bedding before use.
  • Ask questions of manufacturers prior to making a purchase. We have the right to know what’s in our products.
  • Support companies that don’t use toxic chemicals on their bedding.
  • Work towards the disclosure of the use of formaldehyde in our bedding.
  • Keep fighting for strong toxic chemical reform and please sign this:


TOPICS: Children's Health, Mom Detective, Toxics