Do You Wash Your New Clothes Before You Wear Them?

If you don't ... you might want to start.

Retro black-and-white photo of a woman doing laundry in a laundromat in high heels
Photo: Manchester Daily Express/Getty Images

I have a confession: I haven't always washed my new clothes. Listen, I grew up in a tiny two-bedroom house without a washer and dryer. Doing laundry throughout my childhood and adolescence was always a thing. I had to schlep all my clothes to the laundromat, make sure I had enough quarters to feed the machines, and kill time watching basic cable on a tiny TV for a couple of hours. If I bought something new, my rationale was generally, "This is new, so why would I go through this whole elaborate process just to wash it?"

Oh, how naïve I was.

Admittedly, well into my college and early adult years, I continued to not wash my new clothes because it simply seemed like a waste of time. Counterintuitive, even. David Mack, deputy director of breaking news for BuzzFeed News, recently doubled down on this exact line of thinking with a tweet that quickly went viral.

"Do you, like my boyfriend, also wash new clothes before you wear them or [are] you sane," Mack asked the Twitterverse.

His argument has a couple of layers: For starters, the pandemic and general fear of germs is a valid argument. However, he says, it's not like any of us are eating the clothes, so how clean do they really need to be? And if you're just going to touch public door knob after public door knob, what difference do freshly laundered new clothes make anyway?

Needless to say, people (including myself) had some thoughts about the wash vs. no-wash debate. The reason I started washing my new clothes — including items I purchase online — is because I learned more about the apparel supply chain. Until I began regularly covering and writing about the fashion industry, I was blissfully unaware of just how many hands touch your clothes before they ever make their way into your closet.

Stacy Igel, the founder of the athleisure brand Boy Meets Girl, says it's hard to determine the exact number of people who come into contact with clothes on their journey to you, but it's definitely a lot.

"For example, we make a recycled yarn hoodie, and the stages to make this piece go from taking scraps off the ground from other garments to creating the yarn," Igel says. "Then the garment is cut on a machine to get the pattern, passed to sewers to sew the garment, then someone else takes that garment and folds it to specifications."

It doesn't stop there. The hoodie continues onward to the factory in a polyester bag, then to a warehouse, and, lastly, is either shipped to a retailer or directly to consumers.

"Let's try to count how many hands have been on that piece together," Igel says. "You get me."

Bustle's deputy fashion editor, Jessica Andrews, always washes her new clothes because they "have a life" before reaching consumers. "I'm very aware that — when it comes to clothing purchases — 'new' just means new to me," she says. "The garment had a life before it reached me, whether it was tried on a million times or exposed to any irritants in a warehouse."

Washing her new clothes in cold water provides Andrews with peace of mind and makes her feel like she's putting her health and safety first. "I don't want to leave the door open for exposure to any germs or chemicals that can lead to skin irritation or worse," she says.

In 2019, Time magazine reported that allergens that can cause skin rashes — typically disperse dyes found in synthetic materials like polyester and nylon — "may be present at higher levels in a brand-new, unwashed article of clothing." And that's just the tip of the iceberg. According to Business Insider, there are known carcinogens in certain clothing items, like azo dyes in blue jeans, some of which are banned in the EU.

Will a single wash before wearing completely neutralize the threat of such toxins in your clothing? Probably not, but it certainly couldn't hurt. The question you have to ask yourself is this: Are you really comfortable with wearing unwashed pants that someone else may have tried on sans underwear, as one of my Instagram followers told me happened with disturbing frequency when she worked at a major department store?

If the answer is yes, well, then, more power to you. As for me, I'll be washing anything and everything before I put it on my body.

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