Pesticide-Stained Clothes with Care
The pair of soiled work jeans doesn't look dangerous. But if they contain
a pesticide residue, they may be a health hazard--not only to the wearer
but also possibly to other family members.
When people work with pesticides, whether in the garden or in the field,
they often contaminate their clothing with the pesticide they are using.
This contamination can occur through direct spills onto the clothing or
through pesticide particles drifting through the air and onto the clothing.
And the contamination can occur regardless of the formulation of the pesticide--liquid,
powder, or granular.
Although pesticides differ in their toxicity, with some much more dangerous
than others, the long-term effects of even the least toxic pesticides
are uncertain. It is wise for handlers of pesticides to exercise caution
in use, cleanup and laundering. And if pesticide residue is not removed
during laundering, it may be absorbed through the worker's skin the next
time the garment is worn.
Studies of fabrics by textiles researchers show that fiber content makes
no significant difference in the amount of pesticide removed when laundered.
But shirts and pants made of 100% polyester allow more penetration of
pesticides, and should not be worn during pesticide application.
To properly launder pesticide contaminated clothing
follow these procedures:
Be certain the person doing the laundry is aware of the pesticide used,
the clothing that was worn, and has access to the pesticide labels for
information on clean-up and disposal.
- Discard clothing that is soiled with full-strength liquid concentrate
pesticides. This may seem costly, but keeping clothes that have been
saturated with pesticides is too high of a risk.
- Put the pesticide worker's clothing in a separate container from other
items in the family laundry. Use a plastic garbage bag for collecting
contaminated clothing. Or, use a plastic garbage pail that is designated
for pesticide contaminated garments.
- Wear waterproof gloves to handle pesticide contaminated clothing.
Wash the gloves thoroughly before removing. Dispose of the gloves using
the guidelines on the pesticide container labels. DO NOT use the gloves
for any other household task.
- Launder clothing as soon as possible after each day's use. The concentration
of pesticide in fabric builds with successive exposures. The more concentrated
the pesticide, the more difficult it is to remove in laundering.
- Always pre-treat, pre-rinse or pre-wash pesticide contaminated clothing
and do not reuse the water. If the washing machine has a pre-rinse cycle,
it should be used.
- Launder pesticide contaminated clothing separately from other household
laundry. Wash together only garments contaminated with the same pesticide,
since a combination of pesticides makes removal of each chemical more
- Use hot water--120 to 140 degrees-- for laundering. To save energy,
a cold-water rinse may be used.
- Use either a heavy-duty liquid detergent or the amount of powdered
detergent that is recommended by the manufacturer for heavily soiled
- Wash only a few items at one time, use the highest water setting,
and do not overcrowd the washer.
- Use the cycle for heavy-soiled clothes on the washer-or a 10 -12 minute
wash cycle with rinse cycles following.
- Use of other laundry additives, such as bleach, ammonia or fabric
softeners, does not appear to affect pesticide removal.
- Clothing worn while using slightly toxic pesticides may be effectively
laundered in one to three washings. More than three washings of clothing
contaminated with more toxic or more concentrated pesticides are strongly
- Line dry clothing when possible to avoid transfer of any residue to
the dryer. Sunlight can degrade some pesticides but if line drying is
not possible, use the high heat setting on the dryer. Pesticides tend
to be volatile so that hot air helps reduce contamination.
- After washing pesticide contaminated clothing, clean the washer with
an "empty load" of hot water and detergent and run the washer through
the complete cycle before the washer is used to launder other family
Materials adapted by Ellen Burton, Extension Educator, Consumer and Family
Economics, University of Illinois Extension, February, 2001, from:
Guides for Laundering Clothes Soiled with Pesticides, University of Illinois
Extension, Marge Sohn, Extension Specialist, Textiles and Clothing, 1994.
Clothing Needs Washing Care, Ohio State University Extension Fact
Sheet, Textiles and Clothing, Judith A. Wessel, Joyce Smith, Norma Pitts,
to do when clothes are soiled with pesticide, Iowa State University,
University Extension, Janis Stone, Professor and Extension Textiles and
Clothing Specialist, 2000.