When you go shopping for clothing, you consider the style, size and, of course, price – not whether those new duds could be hiding things like lice or scabies.
And the last thing on your mind may be that your snazzy new outfit could be covered in toxic, disease-causing dyes.
But if the first thing you do when you buy new clothing is put it on, two university scientists are sounding an alarm that you need to hear. They’re claiming it’s never been more important to decontaminate our new clothes before we wear them – and that this simple step could protect you from dangerous infections and even chemicals linked to cancer.
Dressed to kill
It may seem illogical to take that perfectly neat, wrinkle-free shirt you just purchased and toss it in the wash. But that extra bit of caution could keep you from developing a potentially serious illness.
Dr. Philip Tierno, director of microbiology and immunology at New York University, tested 14 items of clothing from pricey stores and big-box retailers, and he got some pretty disgusting results. His tests turned up respiratory secretions, fecal germs, yeast and microbes from skin.
Dr. Tierno said that some items were “grossly contaminated” with organisms that can survive for months on clothing. He said that the clothes could spread norovirus, stomach bugs, and even MRSA.
Some people have even caught lice and scabies from new garments.
And it’s easy to see how that happens when you consider how many people try on clothes and how returned items are often put out for sale without being washed.
“In a sense, you are touching somebody’s arm pit or groin” when you wear unwashed clothes, Dr. Tierno said.
And even when new clothes are free from nasty germs, they could still expose you to disease-causing chemicals.
Fabrics may be made with any of an estimated 2,000 chemicals, especially dyes and formaldehyde, which is a known carcinogen, according to Dr. Donald Belsito, a professor of dermatology at Columbia University Medical Center in New York. And they can easily be absorbed through the skin, especially when you sweat.
When azo-aniline dyes, which are used to color most synthetic fabrics, come into contact with skin, they can cause reactions ranging from dry, itchy patches to scaly rashes. Some people, who are especially allergic to them, can suffer severe cases of dermatitis, Dr. Belsito said.
If the clothes are shipped from a very humid climate (such as Southeast Asian countries), fungus can be a problem and that’s something that can last for quite a while. Also, it’s a common practice for factories to use chemicals like dimethyl fumarate to prevent fungus and mold growth, and that can cause severe allergic reactions.
Dr. Belsito recommends that all new clothing should be washed at least once – and with a double rinse – before wearing, which is something he always does himself.
And while shopping you can protect yourself by wearing clothing underneath when trying new garments on.
“I’ve seen examples of some strange stuff,” Dr. Belsito said, “so I don’t take any chances.”
“Do you need to wash new clothes before wearing them? Heidi Mitchell, May 19, 2015, The Wall Street Journal, wsj.com