Do New Clothes Contain Chemicals? Understanding the Facts

Yes, new clothes can have chemicals. This is something not all of us are aware of when we go shopping for the latest fashion. It’s important to know about these chemicals, why they are there, and what effects they might have.


When you buy a new piece of clothing, you expect it to be clean and safe. However, that’s not always the case. Clothes are often treated with various chemicals during their production. Sometimes these chemicals can be harmful. Let’s look into why that is and what we should know about the chemicals in new clothes.

What Kind Anonymous of Chemicals Are Found in Clothing?

New clothes may come with a mix of chemicals that have been used during their manufacturing process. Here are some common ones:


Formaldehyde is a strong-smelling gas used in making building materials and many household products, including fabrics. It’s used to keep clothes from wrinkling and to resist mildew during shipping. However, it can also cause skin irritation and other health problems.

Azo Dyes

These are chemicals used to color textiles and leather. Some azo dyes can release aromatic amines, which can be skin irritants and have been linked to cancer.


These are used to make plastics more flexible. Phthalates are often found in printed designs on t-shirts and babies’ clothes. They can affect human health, especially the hormonal system.

Nonlyphenol ethoxylates (NPEs)

NPEs are chemicals used in detergents and to clean textiles during manufacturing. They can break down into nonlyphenol, which is toxic to aquatic life and can disrupt human hormone systems.

Flame Retardants

Flame retardants are chemicals that are added to materials to prevent the start or slow the growth of fire. While they serve an important safety purpose, some of these chemicals have been linked to health problems such as reduced fertility and changes in hormone function.

Heavy Metals

Some clothes, particularly colored ones, may contain traces of heavy metals like lead, cadmium, and mercury from the dyeing process. These can be toxic to the body.

Why Are Chemicals Used in Clothes?

Chemicals are used in clothing for a variety of reasons:

  • To Improve Appearance: Chemicals like formaldehyde resins make clothes look more attractive by preventing wrinkles and keeping them looking new for longer.
  • To Enhance Durability: Some chemicals are used to increase the strength and durability of the fabric.
  • For Safety Reasons: Flame retardants prevent clothes from catching fire easily.
  • To Add Special Characteristics: Waterproofing chemicals, for instance, allow some clothes to repel water.

Despite these benefits, the chemicals can come with risks.

How Can Chemicals in Clothes Affect Us?

The chemicals in clothes can lead to:

Skin Irritations

Some people might notice rashes, itching, or redness after wearing new clothes without washing them first.

Allergic Reactions

People with sensitive skin or allergies may have stronger reactions to the chemicals on new clothes.

Long-Term Health Risks

Though less common, there’s a concern that prolonged exposure to some of these chemicals could lead to more serious health effects, including cancer or hormone disruption.

How Can You Protect Yourself from Chemicals in Clothes?

Here are a few steps to reduce your exposure to chemicals in new clothes:

Wash New Clothes Before Wearing

This is the easiest way to reduce the levels of chemicals on your clothes. Washing removes some of the chemicals that can come off on your skin.

Choose Certified Organic or Chemical-Free Clothes

Organic certifications can ensure that clothes are made without the use of harmful chemicals.

Check Clothing Labels

Look for labels that suggest eco-friendly practices or the absence of certain harmful chemicals.

Wear Natural Fabrics

Natural fabrics like cotton, silk, wool, and linen often have fewer chemicals than synthetic materials like polyester and acrylic.

Be Aware of the Smell

A strong chemical smell can be a sign that the clothing item has high levels of chemicals.

Choose Light-Colored Clothes

Dark or bright colors are more likely to have higher levels of dyes and chemicals.

Buy Second-Hand

Used clothes have been washed multiple times, which can reduce the amount of chemicals.

The Industry’s Movement Towards Safer Practices

Awareness about the harmful effects of chemicals in clothing has been increasing. This has led to more companies committing to safer production methods and the reduction of harmful substances. Certifications like Oeko-Tex Standard 100 or the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) can guide consumers to make better choices.


It’s true that new clothes can have chemicals on them. These chemicals can sometimes be harmful. By being mindful of what we buy and taking precautions like washing new clothes before wearing them, we can reduce the risk of exposure to these substances. As consumers demand safer and more eco-friendly clothing options, the industry is adapting, giving us more choices for our health and the environment’s well-being.

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