Time to put this cleaning debate to rest.

By Caylin Harris
December 03, 2020
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Housekeeping myths exist, but today we’re providing clarification on a big one. Guess what? You don’t actually need to wash your new sheets or clothes before their first use—but you probably should. We spoke with Nomi Dale Kleinman, chair of the textile/surface design department at the Fashion Institute of Technology about what you should do with your most recent purchases.

So, before you get too excited, washing new clothing or sheets isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, but it is suggested. “I always recommend it,” says Kleinman.

“Textile products may have stray chemicals from the production process in addition to starches used to keep the clothes crisp while shipping, packaging, or hanging in the store.” There are many steps fabric goes through before it makes its way to you and even natural fibers can be exposed to potential irritants. “Natural fibers require scouring and cleaning before they become yarn, yarn spinning requires lubricants, sometimes resins are used for warp sizing, and starches can be used in the weaving process,” she explains. “Yarn and fabric can require additional scouring using soap products, sodium hydroxide, or bleaching to properly accept color during dying or printing processes.” 

According to Kleinman, most people will be fine and won’t notice any adverse reactions. But if you have sensitive skin, any chemical remnants may cause itching or skin irritation. Also, when you do wash clothes and sheets, she recommends using a detergent that’s hypoallergenic and toxin-free (they’re better for the environment, too). 

For dyed garments, like jeans, there is some risk of the dye bleeding onto your blouse or furniture when you sit down. Washing new jeans before the first wear can help prevent this. 

Always check the care tag on new clothing items—anything that says "Dry Clean Only" or very tailored items like custom suits shouldn’t be washed or dried. 

“If you want to extend the life of a product and reduce shrinkage, I suggest washing in cold water and drying on low or hang-drying clothes,” she says. Heat in both the water temperature and dryer settings can fade, stretch, and shrink your favorite clothing.

It’s totally dependent on how sensitive your skin is, but it’s probably a good idea to wash new textiles before using them. But will the world end if you slip into a new camisole without running it through the washing machine? Probably not. One less thing to worry about!