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Should You Wash New Clothes?


Man sitting on the sofa unboxing a new mint green shirt.

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We know how it feels to be so excited about something you just bought, that you want to throw on right away. But you really do need to send it through the washing machine first. It may seem counter intuitive, because they look clean, and feel clean, and surely no store would have dirty clothes on display?

Should you wash new clothes before wearing them? Absolutely. Let’s talk about why.

You Don’t Know How the Clothes Were Made

There are all sorts of chemicals used in the manufacture of clothes. Dyes, to get those bright colors. Fixatives, to make sure those colors stay put. Resins, often including formaldehyde, to protect the clothes from moisture and insect damage during shipping. Even chemicals left over from the manufacture of any synthetic fibers may still be on the fabric.

Because washing is a source of wear and fading, a run through the laundry may not be a step in the manufacturing process. This means by the time you purchase them, there’s a good chance all those chemicals are still on the fabric, and wearing them can rub them into the skin. There’s even a medical term for the rash this can cause: Textile Contact Dermatitis.

And yes, these same chemicals are a workplace safety concern for the people making the clothes, but that’s another article. For now, suffice to say that chemical residues on fabric is another reason why you should buy ethically manufactured clothing if you have the option.

You Don’t Know How the Clothes Were Shipped

In addition to the manufacturing, packaging can be another source of chemicals or irritants. Chemical residue from disinfectants in the plastic bags, remnants from packing foam, or dust from their shipping containers. Given the recurring shipping issues we’re all familiar with by now, they might have been delayed in transit, and thus stayed packed inside those materials for months longer than intended.

You Don’t Know How the Clothes Were Stored

As the savvy homemaker knows, when storing food, it’s important to remember that the shop where you bought it had to store it before you did. The same is true of clothes.

A shirt or a suit may have been hanging on the rack for months, collecting dust. It may have been folded up in the back, stored beside other items. Even if you are confident that it wasn’t manufactured using irritant chemicals, it might have been resting next to or on top of something that was.

You Don’t Know Who Touched the Clothes

It’s important to be aware of the possibility of clothes becoming a disease vector. Clothing is an object which prospective buyers are likely to pick up, to assess the feel and weight, and so having concerns about the potential transmission of germs is reasonable, especially after the experience of a pandemic.

This is doubly important in the case of thrift shopping. Buying clothes second hand is a great way to save money and practice sustainability, as well as finding unexpected treasures and fun vintage items you would never see on a retail shelf, but it does add the question of the clothing’s previous owner. A good wash can wipe away that question mark.

So, should you wash new clothes? Yes. Grab a suitable detergent and colour protection sheets like Colour Catcher and have a quick read through one of our many article such as how to wash woolen  clothes or how to wash silks, depending on the fabric. Don’t forget to check out the Ask Team Clean community with other household tips and tricks and special deals and offers on handy things for post-modern homemakers.

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