This is why It’s Important to Wash New Clothes Before Wearing Them
I’m willing to bet that back to school shopping rivals Christmas when it comes to clothing purchases. It’s a tradition in many households to buy new clothes for school and often a necessity since school-aged kids can easily outgrow half of their wardrobe in the span from June to September.
Even people who aren’t heading to school get in the shopping mode as we approach a new season.
It’s tempting to start wearing new clothes right off the bat – who doesn’t love that crisp never-been-washed look? But the best thing to do when you bring new clothes home is to toss them right in the wash. And then put them through the wash again. And then again.
New clothes are treated with several chemicals to keep them looking crisp and to keep them from being damaged during shipping.
Fabrics are treated with dyes and preservatives and washed with harsh detergents. As your new clothes rub on your skin these chemicals get absorbed into your body. They’re also inhaled (it’s that new-clothes smell).
Almost all of the clothes in stores today are produced in faraway places that have few regulations concerning chemical use and very little oversight to police regulations. The result is that clothing is arriving in North American having been treated with substances that are banned in Canada and the U.S. or containing chemical residues far exceeding what Health Canada considers safe.
What chemicals are we being exposed to?
Formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, is used to treat new clothing and to keep it from getting mildew during shipping. Wrinkle-free clothing is heavily treated with perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs, the chemicals in Teflon) another known carcinogen. Both of these chemicals accumulate in the body, and are also known to cause reproductive problems and allergic reactions.
Another group of chemicals called nonylphenol ethoxylates (NPE’s) are commonly used as detergents in the textile industry and they breakdown into hormone disruptors, again being absorbed into our skin.
Active wear is also heavily treated. Made from synthetic fabrics and heavily treated to wick moisture and to add antimicrobial and anti-odor properties.
Dark dyes are another toxic concern.
To limit your exposure to these chemicals:
- Wash new clothing three times before you wear it and use eco-friendly detergents that are either fragrance-free or naturally scented.
- Avoid or limit the amount of synthetic fabrics that you wear (rayone, polyester, acrylic, acetate) since they’re heavily treated.
- Avoid permanent-press clothing.
- Buy clothing that has been made in Canada or the U.S., where regulation of the textile and apparel industries is stronger than in Asia.
A clothing industry detox may be on the horizon.The clothing giants Zara and H&M have pledged to go toxic free by 2020, including eliminating perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs); and removing hazardous chemicals from their supply chains. A number of other clothing companies, members of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, are chipping away at detoxing their clothing lines but targets have not been shared publicly.