There’s nothing like bringing home one or several new items from a successful shopping trip only to have to wait until the next laundry cycle to wear said items. Because we are supposed to wash new clothes before we wear them. Right?
Is there actually any hard evidence behind this custom? Turns out, yes, there is good reason to wash new pieces of clothing before we spend too much time in them.
Elle interviewed a clothing manufacturing expert named Lana Hogue, and her take on the matter was a resounding: Yes! Wash those new clothes!
The reason? Much of the fabric-dyeing and -finishing processes that clothes go through in a factory are done with chemicals that are, at minimum, “known skin irritants,” if not worse.
“Formaldehyde [a chemical often used when making fabric and clothing] is a category 3 carcinogen, which is the lowest hazard, and the amount is so small that it’s assumed that it won’t remain a threat for very long. But still, who wants to knowingly expose themselves over and over again to carcinogens?” asked Hogue.
What’s more concerning is a 2010 study conducted by the U.S. Government Accountability Office that found some fabrics on the market exceeded the allowable levels of the formaldehyde’s resin in the U.S.
As frightening as that may sound, it seems like Hogue’s main concern is with contact dermatitis or skin irritation. She recommends washing anything that will be worn directly on our skin and that we may sweat in (as sweating opens the pores and creates greater opportunity for chemicals to irritate the skin).
It’s safe to assume that most of us already wash new underwear and socks before we wear them, but Hogue advises the same for shirts, pants, workout gear, summer dresses and swimsuits (unless you plan to jump in the water immediately after putting it on).
There are some items that Hogue says are OK to wear before washing, namely coats and anything that is dry clean only, though she does recommend airing them out before your first wear to help clear away some of the chemicals that may be lingering on the fabric.
So there we have it: Our moms weren’t wrong, and it remains sound advice to wash before we wear.