The Controversy Surrounding Wrinkle-Free Shirts
It is the dream of every lazy person, someone like me. You drop your shirt in the washing machine, hang it outside to dry and voila! The shirt looks like Mom has ironed it. Cool!
Plus, you can call it almost instant, as instant as your instant messages you expect to be answered by your buddies in 3 minutes as otherwise, you wonder what is wrong with them. Yes, a wrinkle-free shirt, also called a non-iron shirt, fits perfectly into today’s DNA.
But the idea of getting away with the process of ironing shirts, which is not only tedious and a kind of art, it also consumes energy. The iron itself costs money and of course, ironing can pose a fire risk. Even small children are exposed to this risk, where they can burn themselves if you are not careful.
Although the idea is not new, the way scientists try to achieve the ultimate goal of a real non-iron shirt varies, depending on who pushes for it.
Big industries typically go either the way of using chemicals to ensure that the cotton fabric becomes smooth on its own or mixes non cotton fibres into the material to achieve the goal of a smooth touch and feel of the product while clearly reducing the needed effort of ironing. Of course, when you achieve that, you can also charge more for your shirt.
The chemicals used have garnered many raised eyebrows in the past as one main ingredient is formaldehyde – a product that causes skin irritation, according to some reports. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has listed formaldehyde as a carcinogen, while the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a report in 2010 where formaldehyde in textiles is related to dermatitis – should you be allergic to it – when the chemical comes in direct contact with the skin. Even the companies that use formaldehyde to strengthen their cotton fibres do not discount that formaldehyde is dangerous in nature, but they argue that the amount used in non-iron shirts is too small to affect most users.
Anyhow, GAO (United States Government Accountability Office) performed a test and if you use the strictest standard to measure formaldehyde, it should be not more than 75 parts per million (ppm). Out of the 180 items tested, 10 items exceeded this standard ranging up to 206 ppm, which was a dress shirt for men. The good news is that most usage seems to be at safe levels, which most probably do not interfere with our health, but some may be harmful. As the consumer, you do not know which one does. In any case, washing a newly bought shirt is a good precaution as it not only washes out some of the formaldehyde but other chemicals used too.
Ermenegildo Zegna, a Italian clothing company, went down a different route. They developed Trofeo shirts with extra long cotton fibres to “keep the shirt wrinkle-resistant. Wear it all day and still look sharp”. But if you read carefully, they do not promise that it is iron-free. Instead, they call it wrinkle-resistant and the shirt’s elasticity improves “wash after wash”.
High-end cotton fibres, such as those as used in Loro Piana shirts, Canclini or other brands will always give you, at the very least, a partial wrinkle. It’s part of the delicate nature and exclusivity of the fabric. Also, we have to accept that all cotton is finished with chemicals. The difference is that the good chemicals in the good quality shirts do not wash out as easily as those found in lower quality shirts, which tend to wash out faster.
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