Photo: Is there formaldehyde in no-iron shirts?

To make cotton iron-free, the fabric is typically soaked in formaldehyde. (Credit: Robert Sheie)

Your suspicion about formaldehyde in no-iron shirts, also known as wrinkle-free, is spot on.

To be sure, you could write to the company and see if they disclose the chemical treatment or hide behind proprietary rights.

I hate to iron as much as the next person, but to make cotton iron-free, the fabric is typically soaked in formaldehyde. When you press it flat it becomes wrinkle-resistant. Retailers warn that due to the change in molecular structure of the cotton shirt, the fabric becomes more brittle. This means the life expectancy of your husband's no-iron shirt may be cut by 25 per cent.

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If a short lifespan isn't discouragement enough (you want to stretch every dollar, after all), these low-maintenance duds are impregnated with a cancer-causing chemical.

Formaldehyde is found in more than no-iron shirts. It's used in a host of consumer products like air fresheners, nail polish, bed sheets, kitchen cabinets, carpets, furniture—you get the idea.

Since formaldehyde is known to emit fumes from products and can be inhaled—most of the cancer research on formaldehyde has focused on risks from inhalation—avoid it. Off-gassing of formaldehyde from building products, for example, is a concern for indoor air quality. Health Canada recommends the reduction or elimination of as many sources of formaldehyde as possible.

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