The idea of wrinkle-free/ wrinkle-resistant cotton rings a bell to those who
hate ironing those
shirts all the time. After all, if cotton shirts can be made to resist those
unwanted creases and
wrinkles then why even bother with regular cotton?
This is the very idea that early
researchers and garment
manufacturers were tinkering
with when synthetic fabrics such
as nylon were beginning to
replace cotton. Cotton
manufacturers had to find a way
to market cotton as the favored
choice of fabric.
During the 1950s and 60s, a chemist and researcher named Ruth Benerito made
accomplishments in producing easy-care cotton fabrics.
The good news was that garments made by this new process were wrinkle-resistant — they
did not have to be ironed.
The bad news was that this process required the use of formaldehyde, a harsh
used for preserving dead animals and body parts and classified by the U.S.
Protection Agency as a probable carcinogen.
There are generally five different methods used to produce wrinkle-free cotton:
fabric, post-cured fabric, dip-spin, spray method, and vapor phase. The main
goal is to artificially
swell the fabric by applying formaldehyde and heat so that instead of curling,
the diameter of the
fiber increases and makes it straight.
While many of the issues associated with the use of formaldehyde in treating
been corrected through research during the past few years, and while the use of
has been reduced, it has yet to be eliminated. Even the most popularly used
which was meant to reduce the concentration of formaldehyde, is nevertheless a
In addition, wrinkle-free fabric has a reputation of being stiff and
uncomfortable to wear. Many
people also find that wrinkle-free garments still require some ironing due to
the creases that
form in some areas.
This is good news for us because it keeps us in the loop, at least to some
for customers accustomed to finely pressed cotton, an unironed “wrinkle-free” shirt isn’t up to
Many consumers fail to realize or do not care about the harsh and toxic
chemicals that are
being used in the products they use every day. Researchers are still studying
health risks associated with being exposed to such chemicals.
As society moved on to the 21st century, everything was manufactured and
marketed to be
fast and less time consuming. However, this sort of mindset comes with costs.
means no more ironing, it also means a higher risk of health hazards associated
with the toxins
Until researchers come up with healthier and more environmentally friendly
producing wrinkle-free cotton, taking some time to iron those shirts doesn’t sound so bad after
Natural finish vs. wrinkle-free cotton
The best shirts are made from the finest 100 percent cotton, using Pima,
Egyptian or other
long-staple cotton fiber. They will use a minimal amount of chemical finishes.
The best quality shirts are not made of wrinkle-free cotton. Aside from the
risks, the heavy use of chemical finishes that are necessary to achieve the
diminishes the natural properties of cotton that have made it the fiber of
choice in the better
This column is meant to provide the facts that everyone buying or
today should know.
Wrinkle-free performance is achieved in 100 percent cotton by changing the
properties through the application of chemicals called resins.
Most if not all of these resins contain formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is a toxic
proven links to cancer. These resins coat the fabric and are actually baked onto
the fiber. It is
only of late that people have started to question the negative consequences of
that has been so heavily treated with chemicals.
Government study regarding health risks
A recent study mandated by the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008
prepared for the U.S. Congress by the Government Accountability Office (GAO)
indicates that the
formaldehyde-based resins used in wrinkle free cotton shirts may be hazardous to
Here are some highlights of the report issued in August of 2010:
The GAO specifically stated: “Some clothing — generally garments made of cotton and other
natural fibers — is treated with resins containing formaldehyde primarily to enhance wrinkle
resistance. Formaldehyde is toxic and has been linked to serious adverse health
including cancer, and some federal agencies have regulations that limit human
occurs primarily through inhalation and dermal (skin) contact.”
Many countries limit the amount of formaldehyde that can be in apparel. Among
Germany, France and Japan. For some reason, the U.S. does not.
Japan has among the strictest limits, allowing no more than 75 parts per million
The GAO study tested for formaldehyde levels in 166 apparel items randomly
throughout the U.S. over various apparel classifications, from outerwear to
sweaters to shirts.
Nine items of the 166 tested exceeded the Japanese standard. Of those nine
items, five were
marketed as being wrinkle-free or wrinkle-resistant. The worst item was a
dress shirt that was almost three times the limit.
The GAO specifically stated: “More than half of the items we had tested that exceeded these
limits were labeled as having fabric performance characteristics related to
(wrinkle-free), which may indicate the use of resins that contain formaldehyde.”
Diminishing cotton’s appealing properties
The characteristics that have made cotton so popular in the better shirt world
compromised by the vigorous processing required to achieve wrinkle- or
The baked-on coating of the resins actually changes the natural performance
the cotton fiber.
Arguably, for all practical purposes, the fabric is no longer cotton.
Breathability and absorbency are greatly diminished making the shirt far less
unable to defuse natural perspiration.
Durability is compromised, also.
The process weakens the fabric, which makes it wear faster at cuffs, collars and
makes it more susceptible to tearing at seams. How many times have you seen that
The appealing natural feel of the fabric is compromised. The coated fabric often
has a slick,
synthetic, sometimes harsh feel to it, especially in warmer conditions. Cotton
doesn’t absorb a
spill like it used to and you can’t dry your car with it anymore. That’s because the cotton is
coated and unnatural.
The vibrancy of color is diminished. The fabric is coated; therefore there is
film over the fabric
that diminishes the vibrancy of the original colors.
Lastly, it should be further noted that wrinkle-free shirts eventually lose
feature. The performance that is achieved when the garment is new diminishes
over time and is
usually entirely exhausted after 25 to 30 washings.
Wrinkle-free shirts are of no help to our industry, but consumers should be
virtually everything else in life, there is a trade-off.
Wrinkle-free isn’t a dream come true.
“If you do what you always did, you’ll get what you always got!”