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To Wash or Not to Wash: That is the Laundry Question

Face it. Buying new clothes can be fun. REALLY fun. So fun, in fact, that sometimes you want to run home and throw on your new clothes. But unless you enjoy the risk of scabies and lice, some experts advise you wash your new clothes before wearing them.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Dr. Donald Belsito, a professor of dermatology at Columbia University Medical Center, said lice and scabies can linger in clothing. “I have seen cases of lice that were possibly transmitted from trying on in the store, and there are certain infectious diseases that can be passed on through clothing.” Lice can’t last long without a host, but they do tend to attach better to natural fibers than synthetics.

Beyond critters, there is the potential of skin rashes and irritations due to contact with harsh chemicals used throughout the production process. According to the same article, “most synthetic textiles are dyed with azo-aniline dyes, which can cause a severe skin reaction akin to poison ivy in the small population of people allergic to them. For others, reactions to dyes are less extreme, and may result in slightly inflamed, dry, itchy patches of skin. Even all-natural fabrics contain chemicals used to fix brightly colored dyes, such as brilliant red and royal blue.”

A number of variables will impact any risk associated with new clothing. Everything from how clothing is stored post-production to the laws governing the chemical use during production may have a direct impact on your exposure to irritants and unwanted pests. In a recent Huffington Post article, Philip Tierno, a professor of microbiology and pathology at New York University, said you need to be aware of the number of people who have a tried on a garment before you purchase it. “It’s not four or five or six people; it’s dozens and dozens…if that garment sits there for weeks or a month,” he said.

So while the risk of contracting something serious is very low, many experts agree – WASH IT. It’s well worth the minimal effort if it means ensuring you will avoid a nasty rash or unwanted pest. The Huffington Post article concludes, “Wearing that new outfit will come soon enough. And it’ll look even better without a rash as an accessory.”