Q. A friend and I are having a debate. She says baby clothes fresh from the store have to be washed before wearing because they are coated with formaldehyde and carry germs of people who have handled them. I never heard that claim and don't think bacteria live long on clothing. Who's right?
A. Your friend is right that formaldehyde may be used in the production of some clothing, primarily to enhance wrinkle resistance. But the American Academy of Pediatrics seems to agree that pre-washing children's clothing isn't required: It doesn't have any recommendation about washing before wearing and has no policy related to formaldehyde and clothing, says an academy spokeswoman.
A federal Government Accountability Office study from 2010 tested levels of the chemical formaldehyde in 180 items of clothing, and most met limits set by the industry; see the study at gao.gov/assets/310/308673.pdf.
"Less is better when it comes to chemicals," says Dr. Ronald Marino, associate chairman of pediatrics at Winthrop University Hospital in Mineola. "If you want to wash them, no harm done. If you don't wash them, you're not destining your kid to develop leukemia within the first two years of life."
As for germs on purchased clothing, that's not a huge concern, says Dr. Michael Grosso, associate professor of pediatrics at Hofstra-NSLIJ School of Medicine in Hempstead. "I have never raised the issue as part of anticipatory guidance, that parents should protect their infant from infection by pre-washing clothing," he says.