Busy mothers will probably agree that doing chores is everyone’s least favourite thing. As the family grows and the kids are still small all the housework that is not absolutely essential will slowly slip down on the priority list – and ironing is usually one of the first ones to go.

It certainly was in my house.

I can still remember how ecstatic I was when I discovered non-iron shirts for my husband. Just a quick wash, throw it on a hanger, and it will dry perfectly; all ready to be worn the next day. I decided I was only going to buy non-iron shirts from then on.

Non-iron shirts: are they worth it?

Little did I know that there is a price to pay for this non-iron luxury… and it’s your health that’s on the line. As GQ discusses the thing that keeps non-iron shirts looking so smooth is formaldehyde, a highly carcinogenic chemical, that’s also used to embalm dead bodies. Ouch. “Each batch of cloth that goes into shirts like these gets dipped in a resin bath that helps it to continually release the preservative, which helps ensure a crisp look every time you pull it out of the dryer.” Suddenly, non-iron shirts don’t seem so appealing any more…

There is lots of research out there about the harmful effects of formaldehyde on health. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is a part of the World Health Organization (WHO), has concluded that formaldehyde is carcinogenic to humans based on higher risks of nasopharyngeal cancer and leukaemia. You can read more about formaldehyde on cancer.org if you’re interested.

It’s not just the shirts

But it’s not just shirts that often get a non-iron chemical treatment: another common item is bedding. That’s right; those lovely non-iron sheets that mums love (myself included) are actually laced with cancer-causing chemicals. When you think about how many hours we spend in bed, with our skin rubbing against the sheets, inhaling all those fumes… it gets scary. Formaldehyde causes cancer; so you’re pretty much sleeping under cancer-causing sheets when you have wrinkle-free sheets.

And it’s not just the formaldehyde. Children’s bedding, sheets, blankets, and pillows are particularly often treated with flame retardant to make them safer; however, the chemicals used in the process are linked to breathing problems, hormone disruptions, lowered IQ, attention deficit, fertility issues, thyroid disease and cancer. Not exactly ideal then.

Unfortunately there are loads of other household products on top of clothes and sheets that also emit formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are really harmful for your health. You can read more about common sources of VOCs in the home in this guide put together by LAHomes.com and learn how to reduce your exposure or minimise the effects of these harmful gases.

What else can you do?

As a first step, don’t buy non-iron shirts. It’s just not worth the health risk. As for the sheets, try to buy organic cotton ones if you can. The last thing you want is sheets full of chemicals that you directly inhale or that seep into your body through direct skin contact. Organic cotton might be more expensive, but it’s definitely worth investing in it. There are lots of organic cotton sheets available on Amazon at affordable prices. And don’t worry if your sheets get wrinkled: no one will notice, honestly. Or if you’re really that bothered, you can always iron them.

The other thing you could do is wash any new sheets and clothes. This should become a habit regardless of where you buy the items from. Be aware that the stronger that “new-clothes smell” is, the more chemicals are present on the fabric; and you might want to wash them twice to remove as much of the toxins as possible.

What if you really don’t have time to do the ironing? Well, you can always get your partner to iron his own shirts. It’s the 21st century after all, and no one says ironing has to be the woman’s job. Or you can have an “ironing hour” once or twice a week while watching TV; it could be your favourite soap, or the evening news, or whatever else you would be watching anyway. This way time will pass more quickly and ironing will seem less boring.

Netflix and ironing, anyone?

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