Should You Always Wash New Clothes Before Wearing Them?

By: Alia Hoyt
Woman browsing in clothes story
You want to wear your new outfit you bought from that upscale store tonight. Is washing it first smart or paranoid? SolStock/Getty Images

You trolled the aisles, swiped the credit card and lugged the bags home. But there's one more tedious, but necessary step before you hang up those newly acquired clothing purchases – running them through the washing machine.

It seems counterintuitive to wash new garments before wearing them. After all, they're brand-new and look clean. But there's a lot more going on behind the clothing scenes than most of us realize.


"Many of our garments are made in countries that use formaldehyde and other chemicals to prevent damage from insects and mildew as they travel long distances to the U.S.," explains Mary Marlowe Leverette, laundry and housekeeping expert with The Spruce. "These finishes and bacteria from other humans can be especially harmful to anyone with a compromised immune system, or young children who have not developed immunity to common bacteria."

She notes that the chemical finishes are especially irritating to people with eczema, including atopic dermatitis. Currently, 31.6 million people in the United States alone have one or more types of eczema. For these people particularly, it's important to wash any excess dyes out of the fabric. People who are sensitive or allergic to azo-aniline dyes can wind up with a pretty serious skin reaction, which can be prevented altogether by prewashing.

Chemicals aren't the only concern, however. Bacteria is capable of surviving on clothing, so they can transfer to your hands when you touch the clothes and then enter your body. Bacteria on clothing can also cause a skin infection if you have a scrape or open wound.

Underwear are also more inclined to be contaminated by germs from feces or even genital infections. Although most people don't try on panties or boxers before purchase, swimsuits typically are donned by who knows how many people before they wind up in their forever homes (the stores do tell you to keep your underwear on when you try on a swimsuit but who knows how much this is followed). If that's not enough incentive, consider that scabies, lice and fungus are only too happy to jump onto a new host in the dressing room or at home.

OK, you're convinced. So what's the best way to wash these new clothes? Tempting though it seems, resist the urge to run them through just a quick rinse cycle. "A full wash is needed to remove most contaminates," Leverette explains. "Use a heavy-duty laundry detergent with enough enzymes to break apart soils and the highest water temperature recommended for the type of fabric."