A flashy new item of clothing can be hard to resist. In fact, you may be tempted to wear it right away, without throwing it in the washing machine first.
But some say that is a big mistake.
“The most important reason to wash clothes prior to wearing them is that they often have a finishing product on them that can cause rashes or irritation,” says Dr. Joel Schlessinger, a dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon based in Omaha, Nebraska.
The issue recently garnered widespread attention when Dr. Donald Belsito, a professor of dermatology at Columbia University Medical Center in New York, told the Wall Street Journal that some clothes contain dyes and formaldehyde resin that can irritate the skin.
Belsito says a small portion of the population is allergic to azo-aniline dyes, which are common in synthetic textiles.
If you are in this population, your skin could react in severe fashion, much in the same way it would respond to a bout of poison ivy.
And even if you don’t have this allergy, your skin may become dry, itchy or inflamed, a condition known as contact dermatitis.
Certain areas of your body are especially susceptible, including:
Schlessinger says he is seeing more patients complaining of rashes and irritated skin.
“This is quite common now,” he says. “We are seeing many patients who come in to our offices, not realizing the cause was a new blouse, sweater or pair of socks.”
Avoiding the irritation
Fortunately, Schlessinger says consumers can take steps to reduce the risk of having their skin irritated by new clothes.
“The most important thing is to wash them and avoid trying them on — other than in the store — until you do, ” he says.
In the Wall Street Journal article, Belsito urged people to wash their clothes twice before wearing them, to make sure all irritating dyes were rinsed out of the material.
When washing clothes, Schlessinger recommends you use a detergent that is 100 percent free of dyes and perfumes. All Free and Clear is one he recommends.
He also urges people to avoid using fabric softener, which he says also has been associated with skin irritation.
In most cases, people who react to a dye or other irritant in clothing will see their symptoms disappear as the substance is washed out.
However, Belsito notes that the skin reactions can be more persistent in people who have a genuine allergy to the substance in question, as they may continue to react to even trace elements of the substance.
Getting rid of bugs
Another reason to wash clothes before wearing them is to eliminate pests from invading your home.
A few years ago, there were concerns that bed bugs could enter your home through new, unwashed clothing. Although the threat is low, it remains a possibility.
Scabies and crab lice also could find their way into new clothes.
“We often see individuals who try on clothes or purchase clothes that may have been worn or tried on multiple times, leading to infections on the clothing,” Schlessinger says.
To get eliminate any such threats in new clothing, experts generally advise you to wash clothing in hot water and dry them on your dryer’s highest setting. The combination should kill any unwanted guests.