The introduction of non-iron shirts has taken the world by storm. I wore them from the second I discovered how easy it was to pull the shirt out of the wash and throw it on. That was until I researched how they were manufactured and the possible harmful effects of the chemical; until I pulled back the curtain and saw the wizard sitting on his high chair.
Everything comes at a price.
I am fortunate to be part of the garment business; to understand the manufacturing process first-hand and walk factory floors. This is sort of like the guys that actually know the ingredients in cigarettes. We all know there is not an easy cure in this world. Everything comes at a price. Sadly, the process to create “non-iron” is a steep price.
We all relate the chemical of formaldehyde to preservation – whether it’s the frog you dissected in high school or embalming. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences defines formaldehyde as a colorless, strong-smelling gas that is known to be a human carcinogen. Besides preservation, formaldehyde is found in wood products, cigarette smoke, and hair straightening products. https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/materials/formaldehyde_508.pdf
The formaldehyde backlash
For apparel, formaldehyde falls under “preservation” and is used as a chemical bath. Factory workers dip shirts in the formaldehyde bath several times to preserve the fabrics’ natural properties and lock out the wrinkles. Even if the shirt that is dipped in the bath is 100% cotton before the coating – brands can still state the product is 100% cotton and exclude the formaldehyde labeling.
Formaldehyde is a carcinogen, causing cancer in the worse cases.
Perhaps the most concerning victim is factory workers prolonged exposure to the hazardous chemical through air pollution that can cause asthma. The level of exposure to the chemical is directly related the degree of detrimental harm. A factory worker is exposed to the inhalation of formaldehyde and possible eye contact. A customer is exposed to skin contact. And long term exposure to high levels of formaldehyde have been linked to cancer in both humans and laboratory animals.
Formaldehyde skin contact is the result of a tight-fitting or constant rubbing non-iron shirt. The irritation can cause a scaly rash called textile dermatitis http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/497713_1. This is the skins allergic reaction to the formaldehyde resin on the shirt surface. Textile dermatitis is more common in women since a missy fit is typically tighter and women are less likely to wear undershirts. However, non-iron shirts dominate the men’s dress shirt market, so men are more frequently exposed to the formaldehyde resin.
Even as an industry insider, I was fooled for years. It is the untraceable chemicals that can do the most harm. And formaldehyde is the worst of them. Already there is a backlash against formaldehyde in your couch and curtains. Most upholstered furniture contains it for the same reason, to lock out the wrinkles. The issue is that manufacturers know the long term side effects of formaldehyde, yet brands continue to offer it to customers. Not at the cost of the brand, but at a harmful cost to the factory workers and customers. Responsible brands are taking notice and taking action. We often hear from our customers that they would like a wrinkle-free Batch shirt. And we totally get it, but we will not budge on our stance and slowly kill our customers. Instead, we will do our part and educate about the subject.
Our last warning. The term “non-iron” is synonymous with men’s dress shirts. But beware, “permanent press” and “wrinkle resistant,” are interchangeable with non-iron and also undergo a formaldehyde dipping process to preserve the fabric. And remember that the more you are exposed to the chemical, the more hazardous the results. So just avoid any negative results and quit formaldehyde. (and smoking).
The safer alternatives
Yes, we agree that ironing is not the most fun activity in the world. Neither is eating vegetables. But ironing is like eating vegetables at a wonderful restaurant: packaged in the right experience, the juice is worth the squeeze. So this is our challenge. We purposefully up the ante on our designs. We want to guarantee that when you wear a Batch shirt, the little bit of ironing needed will be worth the two minutes. You will look confident knowing that a wrinkle here or there means just a little less skin irritation or worse down the road.
We work hard for your life to be easier. So for guys that really must keep their look more pristine, we have a very naturally wrinkle resistant cotton twill. Compared to a classic poplin it pops out of the wash like an angel. Give it a try next time you are having itchy skin.
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