Seems to be common wisdom to wash new clothes:

Example quote:

"You should absolutely wash clothes before you wear them, especially anything that is right next to the skin or that you will sweat on," says Hogue. Even if potential germs from fellow tryers-on don't faze you, the chemicals on the clothes themselves should certainly give you pause.

According to Hogue, almost every yarn or dyed fabric requires chemicals to make them into cute skirts or tops. Unfortunately, those chemicals can have side effects, like contact dermatitis, an itchy red rash that pops up anywhere the irritant came in contact near the skin. "Most of the chemicals used in dyeing fabric and putting those finishes on yarns that allow them to be processed through spinning equipment are known skin irritants," Hogue says.

I didn't know this and survived 32 years with only minor hair loss (Maybe if I had washed my clothes before use ... :) ).

To me it sounds like "appeal to fear", so I was wondering what are counterarguments to the mainstream opinion.

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    There are reports of people wearing a new pair of socks every day, you could look into this and see if they have hit health problems. To add to this appeal to fear maybe someone else tried on this item of clothing before you, maybe they were some super gross slob monster you do not want to be sharing clothes with.
    – daniel
    Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 8:48
  • 3
    Donald Belsito, a professor of dermatology at Columbia University Medical Center is also heavy into this research and the source of a lot of the press about it. from what I can see the risk is more from allergic reaction to formaldehyde resin which is used as an anti-wrinkle/anit-mold treatment. but he does give other compelling reasons as well such as skin parasite transmission. the real question is how high the risks are since the risks appear to be real.
    – John
    Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 13:46
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    There could also be a chance that while the clothes don't have any chemicals on them that might cause you irritation, the person who tried them on previously might have been rolling around in Poison Ivy for all you know. So for the squeamish, there is that. Personally, I wash clothes to remove starchy qualities and the smell of the store.
    – n_b
    Commented Apr 13, 2017 at 19:23
  • @n_b and excess dies that could rub on your skin and leave hard to remove stains...
    – jwenting
    Commented Apr 14, 2017 at 13:00
  • To avoid wearing something that a 'slob monster' rolling around in poison ivy has tried on - buy the item to the rear of the rack. As for socks, possibly most people just put them on from new - but who knows. Commented Apr 15, 2017 at 6:12

1 Answer 1


TLDR: Always wash clothes before wearing them.

Potential Dangers


The potential dangers associated with clothing dyes and conditioners that have been know for centuries. Mad hatter syndrome is one such danger and was first documented for nearly 2 centuries ago. It primarily affected milliners and not consumers. The cause being mercury being used in the felt making process.

Azo dye

From wikipedia:

Many azo pigments are non-toxic, although some ... have been found to be mutagenic. Likewise, several case studies have linked azo pigments with basal cell carcinoma. Azo dyes derived from benzidine are carcinogens; exposure to them has classically been associated with bladder cancer

There is legislation (in many countries and jurisdictions) regarding the dangers of azo dyes.

Chromium (VI)

A preservative and dye, Chromium (VI) has been banned within the EU. It's wikipedia page says this:

Inhaled hexavalent chromium is recognized as a human carcinogen.


Formaldehyde is a preservative used in cotton textiles as a preservative. It also causes cancer. It's restricted or controlled in many jurisdictions.


Are pesticides dangerous? The question has been asked many times. Regardless, there is plenty of legislation regarding the types and volumes permissible in clothing. In the EU. In the USA. And are being researched in Australia.

Does washing work?

Washing is one of the ways to minimise the risk of chemical contamination. But also, it's icky to wear clothes others may have worn.

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    I seriously doubt a single incident from 1931 has much if any relevance in today's environment of consumer clothing (and certainly not worldwide).
    – jwenting
    Commented Apr 19, 2017 at 9:36
  • 5
    Also, this feels exactly like the kind of appeal to fear that I would like to find alternative opinion on. Commented Apr 19, 2017 at 14:59
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    @jwenting - Given the heavy metals and other stuff that shows up in FOOD that is sourced from places with lax oversight, due to the desire to cut costs and be more competitive, I'm not sure why you'd think that would not be a danger today in consumer products. Commented Apr 19, 2017 at 17:54
  • @jwenting I've removed that reference just for you. :D
    – Coomie
    Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 2:26
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    @Coomie The answer has changed a lot since my previous comment. Previously it read like "one person had a problem in 1931, hence you should always wash new cloths". The answer is a lot stronger now, but still leaves doubt as to whether the listed chemicals are actually to be found in cloth or just substances that used to cause problems in the past but were banned since long. I understand the sentiment of not washing new cloths being "icky", but that does not make it as alarming as sources cited in the question claim. Commented Apr 20, 2017 at 21:07

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