If you're like a lot of people who wear new clothes before washing them, you may be wearing a lot more than just clothes. There's a long process between producing fabric and walking out of a store with a new garment, and during that process there are a lot of hands involved -- not to mention all the people who tried on the garment prior to the sale.
Dr. Donald Belsito, a professor of dermatology at Columbia University, told the Wall Street Journal lice and infectious diseases can be passed through clothing and that it should be mandatory to wash things at least once, sometimes twice.
"In terms of hygiene, it's a very good thing to do," said Dr. Belsito. "Being a dermatologist, I've seen examples of some strange stuff, so I don't take any chances."
Related: Mistakes you're making
Laundry mistakes you're making right now
Why you should always wash new clothes
First things first: remove all pins, unbutton buttons, empty pockets, uncuff socks, zip zippers. If there are problem areas that you didn't get to immediately, a stain stick applied before a wash cycle can come in handy on tough spots. If your brood's gear is particularly grimy, you might consider soaking clothes overnight in a hot tub of water to help loosen dirt.
The practice of separating dark-colored clothing from lighter-colored garments probably isn't news to anyone, except maybe your teenager. In order to keep those brights from looking dull and blacks from fading, wash colored apparel inside out. Moms, this is especially true of those expensive jeans.
While this practice was popular in the past, it's not as widely considered anymore. Martha Stewart, however, still recommends it for getting those white fabrics brighter and cleaner in a way that ordinary bleach isn't capable of. Stewart recommend Mrs. Stewart's Bluing, although there are a variety of similar products available on the market.
Your littlest darlings' tiny clothing items deserve extra attention. Because regular detergent is so strong, it's often too much for tender infant and toddler skin. Seek mild products or those specially formulated for washing onesies and the like. Even if they don't get out stains as well, they will protect your baby's precious skin.
We know it's tempting to fill the machine to the gills at the end of a long day, but overloading the washer will only result in rumpled clothing that's not as clean as it could be. The goal is to distribute items evenly and somewhat loosely (a rule of thumb is not to fill the tub more than 3/4 full). You'll soon find it's worth it to take the time to run an extra load. Plus, your washer will be less susceptible to frequent repairs.
If the label on your garments include the word "only" after the instruction to dry clean, then you'll want to drop it off at your local cleaners, but if that key word is missing, there's a good possibility that hand-washing will be fine and will actually produce better results in the long-term. Too much dry cleaning leads to dull-looking clothing, and fragile silk garments are likely to hold up better if they are treated with care by hand.
It may be worth it to add "make fabric softener" to your to-do list as most store-bought brands contain strong ingredients and fragrances that can irritate sensitive skin and exacerbate allergies. We recently located a great DIY recipe from One Good Thing, which calls for using...hair conditioner!
Don't even think about tossing your bras, lacy panties or satin pajamas in with the rest of the stuff. These delicate items deserve precious care. Some washing machines have special delicate cycles, but your best bet is still to hand-wash and air-dry.
There's a reason that washing machines offer choices before you begin a new cycle. Hot water, cold water, permanent press? Pay attention to what you're loading (items should be similar in color and material). The average load should be treated to permanent press, but more soiled items ought to spin on a regular or heavy setting.
Just because it spins with hot soapy water several times a week--or several times a day, if you're like some of us--the washing machine is not actual self-cleaning. It requires regular maintenance in the form of a solid scrub-down. Not only will your machine function better, but that funky smell will vanish, too.
Purchasing natural, eco-friendly detergent is a smart idea, but even better is making your own at home. The powdered stuff can be made fairly quickly and cheaply, and all you need is a few key items. Check out DIY Natural for the details.
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However, the most important reasons to wash prior to wearing are the dyes and formaldehyde resins used to produce clothing. Wall Street Journal contributor Heidi Mitchell sat down with WSJ Live to discuss the chemicals commonly found in new clothes.
"The big ones to watch for are azo-aniline dyes which are used on synthetic fabrics to color them," Mitchell told WSJ Live's Tanya Rivero. "Also, Urea formaldehyde which is in anything that's wrinkle-free. If you're allergic you can get pretty bad allergies. [...] For the rest of us, it can just be irritating."
Not only is it important to wash new clothing, it's also kind of important to continue washing clothes after you've worn them. CNN's Anderson Cooper made the news in 2012 after he publicly stated he only washes his jeans every four to six months. Fashion consultant Stacy London surprised the host on "Anderson Live" with the results of a test done on a pair of his jeans which concluded Cooper's jeans were a biohazard.