Should You Wash New Sheets (or Clothes) Before Using Them?
The short answer is – yes.
You don't necessarily need to wash your new sheets or clothes before their first use—but you probably should. There are a few good reasons to wash new clothes, especially pieces like underwear or t-shirts and shorts that are worn in direct contact with your skin before you wear them.
If You Skip Washing?
Textile products may have stray chemicals from the production process in addition to starches used to keep the clothes crisp while shipping, packaging, or hanging in the store. There are many steps fabrics go through before they make their way to you and even natural fibers can be exposed to potential irritants.
Skin /Chemical Irritants
There are a lot of chemicals in and on your new clothes. When clothes are shipped, they’re kept with some preservatives so that mold won’t grow on them during the shipping process if there’s moisture. Namely, clothing is treated with formaldehyde resins to prevent mold and mildew. And coming into contact with formaldehyde on clothing can lead to contact dermatitis and eczema outbreaks and could also create irritation by the wearer breathing in the chemical. You may think that regulations wouldn’t allow for deleterious amounts of the chemical on clothing sold in the United States, but keep in mind that much of our clothing is shipped from countries without regulations.
Washing new bed linens and bath towels should be done to remove applied chemicals since these come in direct contact with skin. Bonus: Washing will also improve the absorbency of the fabric by removing surface coatings on fibers.
It is especially important that children's clothing, especially clothes for babies, be washed before they are worn. Babies are particularly sensitive to chemicals, and skin rashes can occur. Select a detergent that is fragrance-free and dye-free because detergent dyes and scents can also cause skin reactions. Plus, washing new clothes for children will make them softer and more comfortable to wear.
It’s also important to wash clothing that you will wear when sweating. If you’re going to wear it out and in the heat and sweat in it, you should launder it. Sweating opens your pores and allows your skin to absorb the chemicals in clothing.
Bacteria, Fungus, and Insects
Think about it—regardless of where you buy your new pieces, they’ve usually been touched by numerous sets of hands before becoming yours. Would you want strangers to touch your skin? Probably not. But their hands and germs were on the clothing, and the clothing will go on you—so it only makes sense to wash the clothing prior to wearing it. It is possible to transfer lice, scabies, bacteria, and fungus from one person to another person when clothes are tried on. Dressing rooms can become breeding grounds for everything from viruses to athlete's foot. Why take that risk?
For dyed garments, like jeans, there is some risk of the dye bleeding onto your blouse or furniture when you sit down.
Best Practices for Washing New Items
Dermatology and immunology experts agree that washing new clothes before you wear them is your best bet to reduce your exposure to skin-irritating compounds. Check the care label for unique laundering instructions to keep your new clothes looking their best. Of course, the key is to use detergents and high-efficiency washing machines that help to remove those residues and chemicals.
There are a few kinds of garments that you can skip the pre-wash on, like:
Swimsuits, when you'll jump in the water in immediately after putting them on (that should be enough to rinse out anything too caustic, according to Hogue)
Event wear ("You're not going to launder your prom dress")
Outerwear, which isn't worn directly next to your skin
If you have a tailored jacket, you're not going to want to wash it. It's not being worn right next to your skin and it's not going to give you skin irritation. Don't bother sending anything that is marked as "dry clean only" promptly to the dry cleaner. It's not going to do you a whole lot of good to go dry clean it, because then you are putting fresh chemicals in the fabric. But air it out before wearing it.
Pro Tip: To ensure you avoid dermatitis or irritation from resins, dust, etc., we recommend you wash clothes with Boulder Clean laundry detergent at least twice before the first wear. Especially if your new clothes are brightly colored, or if you have new dark-colored denim. This allows the clothes to wash clean of extra “product,” and removes buildup from other cleaners or detergents. With Boulder Clean you get a simple, effective detergent that removes dirt, stains, and harmful residues every time you wash. Trust Boulder Clean to make your new clothes safer and to keep your favorites clean and bright. Check out our gentle line of laundry products: clean-rinsing, washing liquids, stain-removers, and fabric softeners.
The conclusion is clear: According to dermatologists, clothing manufacturers, vintage dealers, and cleaning experts, it’s smart—and highly recommended—to wash your new clothing items before wearing them. We know that it can be difficult to wait to wear your incredible new purchase(s), but it’s worth waiting for a few hours. Trust us.