Why you should always wash new clothes and linens – and what happens if you don’t

You could be bringing unknown germs and chemicals into your home, experts warn

Image shoing half a laundry basket with folded up linens inside, against a white background
(Image credit: Getty Images)

When buying anything new, be it clothes or household linens, from stores or online, there is an expectation that they are clean, fresh, and ready to be worn or stored. But should you wash new clothes and linens? 

Although it may seem pointless doing laundry for something that is fresh off the rack, it turns out these ‘new’ pieces could have been through a lot of hands, or collected a lot of dust, that we just don't know about. 

Laundry and cleaning experts are urging us to start washing new clothes and linens as soon as we bring them home, but is it really that important? 

Should you wash new clothes and linens? 

The short answer is yes, new clothes and linens should absolutely be washed when we first bring them home or have them delivered, begins Rick Rome, laundry expert, and CEO at WashClub

‘During the journey from factory to consumer, clothing, and linen has likely accumulated dust, dirt, and bacteria, which can irritate the skin or activate allergies,’ he explains. ‘In a more superficial sense, many new clothes have a lingering smell from their packaging or just the transportation process. Washing them will help eliminate these odors and leave them smelling fresh, make your home smell nice, and allow you to enjoy your new purchase even more. 

A headshot of WashClub CEO Rick Rome
Rick Rome

Rick Rome is a former Morgan Stanley trader who launched WashClub, a wash & fold and delivery dry cleaner in Manhattan. Wash Club provides eco-friendly washing, folding, dry cleaning, and commercial laundry services to New York City, diligently serving the residents and businesses of Brooklyn and Manhattan.

Laundry baskets

(Image credit: Getty Images)

It is not just dirt and bacteria you have to worry about, however, as the team at Heritage Park Laundry warns us: ‘Clothing and home linens are often treated with chemicals to prevent wrinkling and preserve the look and feel of the fabric in the store and washing will minimize any irritation from these chemicals or packaging,’ they explain. 

‘In other cases, washing is actually necessary for your item to look and feel its best! Bath towels, for example, are coated during the manufacturing process with a treatment that makes them feel softer in the store. Washing towels to remove this treatment helps to achieve its maximum softness and absorbency; in fact, it may take several washes for a bath towel to be broken into its peak level of performance.’

Just be sure to check the laundry labels, never wash clothes without detergent, and follow the manufacturer's guidelines when washing any new clothing or home linen, they add. 

Downy Rinse & Refresh Cool Cotton | $6.99 at Target

Downy Rinse & Refresh Cool Cotton | $6.99 at Target
Downy Rinse & Refresh is a breakthrough laundry odor remover that helps rinse away the smelly residue trapped within fabric fibers.

Sometimes washing new clothes and linens when they first come home is also important to help protect your laundry in the future, continues Parveen Garg, manager and cleaning expert at OlaClean. Some fibers may not be colorfast, leading to dye leaks later down the line. Washing them when you bring them home with a color catcher, such as Shout from Walmart, and with like colors will ensure they don't damage the rest of your laundry later on – it's a great laundry hack to save time in the long run, he says. That being said, there are some items that may need more careful treatment, Parveen continues. ‘It's worth noting that some items, especially delicate fabrics or items with intricate embellishments, may come with care instructions that advise against washing before use. In such cases, it's important to follow the manufacturer's recommendations to prevent damage.’  


Should you wash new clothes separately the first time?

When washing clothing and linens for the first time, there is no need to wash them separately from the rest of your laundry unless they have specific laundry requirements and treatments to prevent damage. Be sure to check the manufacturer's label before washing.  

How do you wash new clothes for the first time?

When washing new clothes for the first time, make sure they fit before removing any labels, stickers, and tags from the garment. It then also helps to turn the item inside out to prevent damaging the exterior of the garment before you have the chance to wear it and to allow the inside to have first contact with the detergent to remove oils and grease in case other people have tried your item on. Then, wash according to the label instructions.   

Washing new clothes and home linens before you first use them is certainly a good idea, but it won't be the end of the world if you don’t, concludes cleaning expert Parveen Garg. ‘Ultimately, washing new clothes and linens before use is a personal preference, but it contributes to maintaining cleanliness, comfort, and overall well-being, making it a good habit,’ he says.  

Chiana Dickson
Content Editor

Chiana has been at Homes & Gardens for two years, having started her journey in interior journalism as part of the graduate program. She spends most of her time producing content for the Solved section of the website, helping readers get the most out of their homes through clever decluttering, cleaning, and tidying tips – many of which she tests and reviews herself in her home in Lancaster to ensure they will consistently deliver for her readers and dabbles in the latest design trends. She also has a first-class degree in Literature from Lancaster University.