Why you should always wash new clothes – twice!

Have you ever noticed itchiness or a scaly rash after wearing new clothing? Evidence is mounting on just how important it is to run new clothing through the washing machine before you wear them. Preservatives, toxic dyes, even live bugs are some of the unwelcome gifts you might bring home from store.

Last year hundreds of thousands of clothes, plus bedding, were recalled after high levels of azo dyes were detected on the fabric. These very effective dyes break down into compounds called “aromatic amines” and many of these have been found to cause cancer.

Australia has regulations in place regarding these dyes but the onus is on clothes suppliers to check they haven’t been used in the products they import.

Other nasties commonly found in clothing are chemicals used to make clothes wrinkle-free, and formaldehyde, a popular preservative that prevents clothes going mouldy when in transit. Speaking to the Wall Street Journal just recently, a dermatologist from New York’s Columbia University Medical Centre said formaldehyde was common cause of skin irritations and allergic reactions.

Repeated exposure to formaldehyde has also been linked to cancer, and recent testing on a batch of clothing imported into New Zealand found some items contained up to 900 times the accepted level of the preservative.

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On top of that, new clothing may contain, bleach, perfluorinated chemicals, (which are the same chemicals used to make non-stick pans), flame-retardants and residual pesticides.

Professor Donald Belsito recommended that clothes be washed twice to remove chemical residue.

On a more icky note, the professor points out that new clothing can be contaminated by other people who have tried it on in the shop.

“I have seen cases of lice that were possibly transmitted from trying on in the store, and there are certain infectious diseases that can be passed on through clothing. Lice can’t last long without a host, but they do tend to attach better to natural fibres than synthetics. The other infestation I’ve seen from clothing is scabies,” he said.


Do you wash new clothes, socks, undies and bedding before you use them? Have you ever had a reaction to the chemicals used in clothing?