A kids’ epidemiology book, its cover depicting an ominous microscope surrounded by an eerie sci-fi green haze, confirmed what my mother always told me: Wash your clothes before you wear them — or else.
Or else what? Well, poisoning for starters. Seriously. In the medical mysteries book I read, a boy was slowly poisoned through his skin by his new jeans. The jeans had been soaked by chemicals that were being carried on the same delivery truck, and the jeans dried before reaching their destination, making their new owner very, very sick once he began to wear them. (Something similar was depicted on a House episode, you may remember.)
That hardly ever happens! — you may think to yourself. While that might be true, consider that new clothing is purposefully soused with toxic chemicals. It’s true: formaldehyde is routinely used to give clothing a permanent press effect and to retard mildew growth.
Although levels used in clothing are routinely touted as safe in the United States, Consumer Affairs in New Zealand advises “that it is good practice for new, washable garments to be thoroughly washed and aired, preferably outside.” I sure don’t mind washing my new clothes to keep this known carcinogen (according to the National Cancer Institute) away from my very absorbent skin thankyouverymuch.
If that’s not enough to make your skin crawl (sorry) there’s more. An ABC news report discusses a doctor’s testing of clothing from three popular chain clothing stores, ranging from low end to high end. What he found is downright repulsive: “On this black and tan blouse we found representation of respiratory secretions, skin flora, and some fecal flora.” Other items — and remember, these are just your run-of-the-mill off-the-rack new clothes!! — had vaginal organisms, yeast and more fecal germs, and “extremely high counts of germs, far above normal.” Siiiiiick!!!
Wash your “new” clothes, please. Just like mama told you to.