As annoying as it is to do laundry, it’s about 1,000 times better than contracting lice, eczema, or scabies. You’re at risk for all of the above (and much more) by wearing new clothes without running them through the washing machine at least once, if not twice. According to a cringe worthy new article in The Wall Street Journal, Dr. Donald Belsito of Columbia University Medical Center says that the type of clothing dye and traces of formaldehyde commonly found in many articles of factory-made clothing can often have severe impacts on human skin.
Urea formaldehyde resins are used to prevent cotton-polyester blends from wrinkling and to limit mildew, Dr. Belsito says. Though most countries regulate the amount of permissible formaldehyde, a 2010 study by the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that some fabrics for sale in the U.S. exceeded allowable levels of the chemical’s resin.
“The high levels didn’t correlate with any particular fabric or country of origin,” says Dr. Belsito, who adds that some of the tested garments were made in the U.S. Allergic contact dermatitis and irritant contact dermatitis, both forms of eczema, can be caused by wearing fabrics containing the anti-wrinkle chemical. Both have similar symptoms—flaky skin and rashes.
Furthermore, because there is no real way of knowing how many hands have touched an article of clothing before you buy it, Belsito notes: “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 … The other infestation I’ve seen from clothing is scabies.”
Also, while you’re at it: go ahead and wash your sheets, towels, and bathroom rugs. But not your jeans, those are fine. At least once they’re worn in.