FORMALDEHYDE - WHY SHOULD WE CARE? July 17, 2015 14:51

When we started out on our mission to design and make our Go Everywhere Mat, we didn’t know all that much about the baby market to be honest but wow did we learn fast. We expected that it would be a highly sensitive market with extremely stringent criteria and certification requirements. However, what we found was quite different.

Something we have spent a lot of time [agonizing over], is formaldehyde. What is this mysterious chemical which we have to be wary of and yet know so little about? Surely it’s pretty easy to find out with a quick google search right? Wrong. Formaldehyde and its widespread use in textiles as a finishing agent is quite tricky to get to the bottom of.

First of all, there is no single international standard which companies must legally conform to. Different countries have a different approach. When we tried to find out what the legal limits were for this chemical, it turned out there weren’t any in the UK and the manufacturer is largely guided by the specifications of the retailer. But where are retailers getting their standards from and are they asking the right questions? In Germany and Japan for example, customers are extremely savvy on this stuff, and many retailers have detailed criteria which companies must meet before they will stock them. The UK is not as strict as some of these countries, although is probably more discerning than many others.

Formaldehyde is measured in parts per million (ppm) and the level deemed acceptable depends on the intended end use. In other words, the level differs if the product is for a child under 36months, a child over 36m or an adult. The level of skin contact with the product will also determine the level deemed safe. Oh, and quite a lot of it can be removed upon the first wash so some companies choose to advise washing before use. And this is all assuming that the side effects of formaldehyde are only in the form of skin irritation. There have been a number of reports which cite formaldehyde as a carcinogen.

Of the many suppliers we met in the early days, we were surprised how many knew so little about the chemicals in their textiles. To be fair, if you mainly supply textiles for the home and for adults, formaldehyde is unlikely to be on your radar. However, as this information wasn’t generally available from our suppliers, we spent a lot of time and money testing potential fabrics for use in our mat, many of them failed and had to be crossed off the list. It has always been the most important thing to us, to ensure that what we put out there is 100% safe for our baby customers. So we kept searching until we found the right people with the right materials to go in our products.

What is most worrying of all of this is the sheer lack of guidance available to UK manufacturers and retailers who are developing products that we all use every day. There are various standards which manufacturers can choose to follow such as Oeko-tex and GOTS in order to assure the quality in the chain but with some countries like Japan banning formaldehyde altogether, surely we need clearer guidelines and information as businesses and consumers.