For years, I’ve been buying a particular model of pants because they fit nicely, are comfortable, and draw a minimum of snarky remarks about my fashion sense. Then, one day, when I went to buy more, they were no longer available, replaced by something that was touted as improved. The description on the tag said that despite being 100% cotton, they were no-iron; they would look pressed and tidy direct from the dryer.
I was skeptical, but I bought a pair, and washed them. When I put them on, they made my legs feel hot and itchy. I stupidly wore them for a day to make sure I wasn’t imagining things. I hated the pants.
So it was back to shopping. My pants supplier had switched its entire inventory to no-iron, but I managed to snag four pairs of the old wrinkle-a-lot kind from a close-out section.
Was it possible to buy the old kind anymore? I asked. No, they were switching their pants inventory completely to no-iron, because that’s what customers wanted.
What was the magic behind making the pants no-iron? I asked. I was invited to email the manufacturer, which I did. There was a polite reply: It’s a secret. But if there was an allergy problem, I could write back identifying what chemicals I’m allergic to, and they would let me know if I might be affected.
Since I don’t know much about clothing chemicals, I didn’t write back.
It turns out that the secret ingredient contains the chemical formaldehyde, according to several articles that turned up in an Internet search. For many people, the formaldehyde can cause irritation, which in my case translates as itchiness. Studies have found that the no-iron treatment is unlikely to irritate most people, and probably isn’t harmful in the small concentrations used in clothing.
But for people like me, no-iron pants are a hazard.
I have expanded my shopping effort in search of pants without the no-iron treatment that are worthy of my finely-honed fashion sense. I have not had much success. No-iron is king. The selection of office-acceptable clothing without formaldehyde treatment seems to be pretty limited. (And wool isn’t an option because it also causes itching.)
So, I’m planning to haunt used-clothing stores in hopes of finding cotton pants that pre-date the no-iron rage. If I’m succcessful, I’ll also be saving big money: pants for $4 instead of $40 to $80.
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New York Times: When Wrinkle-Free Clothing Also Means Formaldehyde Fumes
DavidSuzuki.org: Is there formaldehyde in no-iron shirts?
New York Times: Behold, the Non-Iron Shirt
Slate.com: The Shirt From Hell
Huffington Post: The Wrinkle in No-Iron Shirts
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