Don’t you just love buying new clothes? If you’re like me, you can’t wait to wear them. They are “perfect” after all. The colors are bright and the lines crisp. You expect them to be clean, right? But, are they really?
Other than washing new undergarments, I rarely washed new clothes before wearing them, even though my dear mother always told me I should. Well, it turns out that Mom was probably right.
Clothing can actually transfer certain types of bacteria or pathogens. In fact, some organisms can survive for weeks or even months on clothing.
When you think about it, there were probably many people who tried on or even wore those clothes before you took them home. Often, returned clothing that has been worn before, goes right back on the rack, to be resold as new. In a story that ABC News reported several years ago, a microbiology physician tested clothing from three popular chain stores (low end to high end). He found clothing containing respiratory secretions, vaginal organisms, yeast, skin and fecal bacteria, as well as an extremely high count of germs. Yuck.
According to Trevor Thompson, MD, a dermatologist with Banner Health Center – Dermatology – Peoria Sun City West, additional infectious agents can reside on clothing. “While lice and scabies require a host organism to survive over time, it is possible that one could obtain both lice and scabies from clothing worn by individuals with these organisms.”
Allergens are other good reasons why you should consider washing clothes before wearing them. New clothing can often contain extra dyes, chemicals and finishing agents that can be transferred to your skin.
“These chemicals can cause skin reactions known as allergic contact dermatitis or irritant contact dermatitis,” said Dr. Thompson. “This can present as mild red itchy areas in sites exposed to the clothing to symptoms as severe as contact with poison ivy in those sensitive to these chemicals.”
Babies and small children can be particularly sensitive to chemicals and so all of their clothes should be laundered before wearing.
Some clothing manufacturers also use chemical finishes including urea formaldehyde resins to enhance color or texture.
“Without an exact ingredient list of how your clothing purchase is formulated, it is best to wash the clothing agents to diminish your risk of exposure to the chemicals and potential skin irritation,” said Dr. Thompson. “Some of us will be more sensitive to these chemicals than others, but washing clothing can reduce your risk of issues from your newly acquired clothing.
Washing will also make them softer and more comfortable. Even clothing purchased from consignment or thrift stores should be washed or dry-cleaned before wearing. Because, you just never know where they’ve been, right?
According to Dr. Thompson and other dermatologists, it’s a good idea to wash new clothes or newly purchased used clothes. You may also consider a second rinse or a cycle in a hot dryer before wearing them. Also, it’s not a bad idea to wear clothing underneath while you’re trying on new clothes and wash your hands after shopping. Your mother would be proud.