5 reasons it’s a good idea to wash new clothes and bedding before use

Think brand-new clothes, bedding and towels are squeaky clean? You might want to think again.

Press Association
Last updated: 28 February 2018 - 8.17am

If you’ve just splashed out on new clothes, it’s tempting to wear them while they still look pristine straight from the store.

But looks can be deceptive, and the fibres in brand new clothing, bedding and towels can harbour a myriad of chemicals and germs that you really don’t want against your skin.

[Read more: How often should you wash your bra, jeans and pyjamas?]

The problem is easily solved by washing before use however. Here are five reasons why you might want to consider doing it:

1. Irritating chemicals

Many clothes include materials that were made in one country, dyed in another, and finally stitched together in yet another land. And the problem with such well-travelled fabrics is that each country has different laws about the chemicals permitted for use on textiles. One chemical routinely used in the manufacture of new clothes is formaldehyde resin, used to prevent mildew from forming on cotton-polyester blends that have to be shipped long distances in hot, humid containers.

To make yarns fit into weaving machines, the fibres are often flattened with more chemicals. And even natural fibres, such as 100% cotton, can be treated with chemicals before going on sale. Experts say some of these chemicals are known skin-irritants, and washing the items helps remove them. One washing probably won’t remove all of the chemicals completely, but they’ll be significantly reduced and will continue to be removed with subsequent washes.

2. Dye reactions

Many synthetic fabrics such as polyester and acrylic get their colour from azo-aniline dyes, which can sometimes end up on your skin. Apart from occasionally colouring the skin itself, the dyes can cause a reaction in those who are allergic, leading to inflamed, dry, itchy patches near areas where there’s friction or sweating, like the waist, neck, thighs and armpits. It may take several washes to get rid of excess dye, so make sure you wash new clothes, bedding and towels separately for a while to prevent the dye leaching into other fabrics in the wash.

[Read more: 7 tips for drying clothes indoors]


3. Germ transfer

When you try on clothes in a shop, you have no way of knowing how many people have tried on that garment before you. And while previous shoppers will almost certainly have left dead skin cells on the fabric, it’s also possible they may have left bacteria, fungus and even tiny nasties like lice and scabies. Some experts say they’ve seen cases of lice that were possibly transmitted from trying clothes on in a store. Fortunately, lice can’t last long without a host, but nevertheless they’re not a free gift people want to bring home with their new clothing, and washing will remove them. There are also certain infections that can be passed on through clothing, including athlete’s foot.

4. Sensitive young skin

It’s especially important to wash children’s new clothing, bedding and towels, especially those used by babies. The developing immune systems of babies and young children mean they’re particularly sensitive to chemicals, so skin rashes are more likely to occur as a result of the chemicals and dyes on new fabrics that touch their skin.

5. Fragranced and soft

Washing new clothes, bedding and towels will make them softer and more comfortable to wear or use, and using fabric conditioner will make them smell lovely too.

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