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December 20th, 2010
09:39 AM ET

Can wearing unwashed new clothes hurt a child's skin?

Every weekday, a CNNHealth expert doctor answers a viewer question. On Mondays, it's pediatrician Dr. Jennifer Shu.

Question asked via email
Should I wash my kids' clothes before first wearing?

Expert answer

Thank you for your question. In general, I recommend that new clothes be washed before children wear them, especially if the clothing will be in direct contact with the skin. Reasons for this recommendation include the fact that the clothes have been handled by multiple people before being brought home, and it's impossible to know what has touched the fabric. In addition, certain dyes in the fabric may leave a residue on the skin or rub off on other clothing. Also, chemicals may have been sprayed onto the clothes to keep them fresh.

Some clothes are treated with chemicals to prevent the growth of certain bacteria. They may cause allergic reactions on the skin, especially in areas of friction or sweating. In addition, these chemicals can irritate the eyes, nose and breathing passages. While the United States places limits on the amount of preservatives that may be used on clothing, other countries have been known to allow higher levels.

Children tend to be more sensitive than adults to chemical irritants, so for clothes that are difficult to wash, it may be a good idea to try to air them out prior to wearing. Also, you may want to have the child wear light undergarments beneath them.

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soundoff (32 Responses)
  1. rach

    Um....duh?

    December 20, 2010 at 13:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Patrick

    I'll counter rach's "duh" with my "oh, come on."

    December 20, 2010 at 15:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. bailoutsos

    :::Patrick I'll counter rach's "duh" with my "oh, come on." @@@@ And I raise a "no brainer."

    December 20, 2010 at 15:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Steve

    Yes, because most clothes are not made in this country. All my clothes are made here, and I still wash them.

    December 20, 2010 at 16:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Velma

    After my grandson broke out in a bad rash from wearing new clothes that we forgot to wash first, we are very careful not to let that happen again.

    December 20, 2010 at 17:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Alison

    After working 3 years of working in the retail clothing field, I would say washing is a must! We would open freight from abroad, and find it covered with mildew, smelling of chemicals etc. The corporations I worked for would instruct us to spray the clothes down, hang for a day, and then move to the floor. It disgusted me, and I quit. Buying local is the key...

    December 20, 2010 at 19:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. thor

    No. Who cares if they get a rash. Or some weird tropical diseases. Laundry soap ain't cheap.

    December 20, 2010 at 23:54 | Report abuse | Reply
    • ginger

      Darn right, Thor, kids today are too soft anyway. Mine want fabric softener AND dryer sheets to be used on their clothes. I say let 'em rough it. The aggravating curtain climbers are expensive enough as it is.

      December 21, 2010 at 09:43 | Report abuse |
  8. Uncle Festivus

    I guess there are people out there still dumb enough not to wash them...and thus have to be told how to do something that common sense should already have done.

    December 21, 2010 at 08:26 | Report abuse | Reply
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    December 21, 2010 at 10:28 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.