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Should You Wash Clothes Before Wearing Them? Here’s What the Experts Say

We’ve all heard the advice to wash new clothes before wearing them, but do you really need to delay the debut of that flattering blouse you just bought, or is this just another old wives’ tale you can safely ignore? (That’s right, grandma, we’re wise to the fact you can’t really catch influenza from leaving the house with wet hair.) So, should you wash clothes before wearing them? Alas, the answer is yes, which means that if you’re chomping at the bit to flaunt some recently acquired clothing, you’re going to need to pencil ‘laundry day’ in a bit sooner than you planned. Don’t take our word for it, though—we spoke to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Liv Kraemer for the full scoop on why new clothes should be washed. Read on and you, too, will understand why this is one rule not worth flouting.

Why should you wash new clothes before wearing them?

We already broke the bad news: You do indeed need to wash that new dress before putting it on. But why, you ask? Well, it turns out the store-bought merch you just snagged is potentially contaminated with some decidedly unappealing stuff—you know, the sort that can really do a number on your skin. Fortunately, the cooties in question can’t survive a spin cycle, so the solution to the problem is simply to wash before you wear…unless the new look you were going for involves an unsightly rash, but we kind of doubt that’s the case.

1. Harmful chemicals

Yep, new clothing can wreak havoc on your skin if it hasn’t first been washed. Per Dr. Liv, the reason for this is that “unwashed fabrics can disperse dyes, formaldehyde and all kinds of finishing resins, which are extremely harsh on the skin and can cause textile contact dermatitis.” More on the potential consequences of your negligence (i.e., contact dermatitis) later. 

2. Germs and bugs

Now that you’ve started to itch, allow us to creep you out a little more. Both the NHS and CDC confirm that unwashed clothing—i.e., the garment you just bought, but was handled and taken to fitting rooms by countless individuals before you—can transmit viruses ranging from COVID-19 to norovirus (aka the worst stomach flu of your life), as well as bacteria and even (gasp) parasites like lice and the mites responsible for scabies infections.

What are the risks of wearing new, unwashed clothing?

As previously mentioned, the single greatest risk associated with wearing unwashed clothes is a condition called contact dermatitis. According to Dr. Liv, “contact dermatitis is a skin disease that you can think of as a huge allergic reaction [in which] the skin becomes itchy, scaly and bumpy.” (Sounds pretty unfortunate, right?) Although symptoms can appear within a few hours of exposure to the offending chemicals, the expert says that it may be days before the skin in contact with the unwashed materials becomes red, inflamed and uncomfortable. In other words, if you’re guilty of wearing new threads before washing ‘em, you might need to stop blaming hormones and changes in the weather for the occasional skin crisis you experience. Even if you’ve been lucky so far, it’s best not to tempt fate, since Dr. Liv tells us that flare-ups of contact dermatitis can be quite stubborn and often require cortisol in order to calm down. Plus, if the threat of contact dermatitis isn’t enough to persuade you to wash new apparel, surely the risk of a super creepy case of head lice will. 

Should baby clothes be washed before use?

You’ve probably already surmised that the answer to this question is an unequivocal ‘yes.’ For all the same reasons we’ve discussed, everything that makes contact with your baby’s delicate skin—swaddle, onesie, what have you—should be washed prior to first use. (And then washed and washed again, because having a baby means doing oodles of laundry.) In fact, it’s particularly important to wash new clothes before putting them on a baby, since the skin of an infant is considerably more sensitive and permeable than that of an adult and, thus, more prone to allergic reactions.

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