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What is Wrinkle-Free Cotton?

November 18th, 2009

    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 favorable choice of fabric. During the 1950s and 60s, a chemist and researcher named Ruth Benerito, made notable accomplishments in producing easy-care cotton fabrics.  The good news was that garments made by this new process were wrinkle-resistant- it did not have to be ironed. The bad news was that this process required the use of formaldehyde- a harsh chemical often used for preserving dead animals and body parts and classified by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency as a probable carcinogen.

    There are generally five different methods used to produce wrinkle-free cotton: pre-cured fabric, post-cured fabric, dip-spin, spray method, and vapor phase. While we can get into a detailed explanation of how all of these methods work, 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 fabrics have been corrected through research during the past few years, and while the use of formaldehyde has been reduced, it has yet to be eliminated. Even the most popularly used resin, DMDHEU, which was meant to reduce the concentration of formaldehyde, is nevertheless a type of formaldehyde. 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.

    Many consumers fail to realize or simply do not care of the harsh and toxic chemicals that are being used in the products they use every day and researchers are still in the process of studying the long term health risks associated with being exposed to such chemicals. While 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. While wrinkle-free means no more ironing, it also means a higher risk of health hazards associated with the toxins being used. Until researchers come up with more health-and-environmentally-friendly methods for producing wrinkle-free cotton, taking some time to iron those shirts don’t sound so bad after all.

    Written by Christina Lee

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