Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet

Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet

Textiles and Clothing

1787 Neil Avenue, Columbus, OH 43210-1295

Pesticide-Contaminated Clothing Needs Washing Care


Judith A. Wessel Joyce Smith Norma Pitts

That pair of soiled jeans doesn't look dangerous. Neither does that stained shirt. But if these garments contain a pesticide residue, they might be a health hazard--not only to the wearer but also possibly to other family members.

During pesticide application, clothing can pick up pesticide residue through spills and drift. The chemical can then enter the body through the skin. Tossing contaminated garments into the washer or laundry basket with other clothes can transfer the residue to the other garments. And, ordinary laundry procedures won't rid the clothes of highly toxic and concentrated pesticide residues.

Because pesticide absorption through the skin--not through the respiratory system--is the major risk for agricultural workers, textile researchers continue to study pesticide removal from clothing. Fabrics studied include those typically used by farm workers--heavyweight 100% cotton and 50/50% polyester-cotton blends. Research to date shows that fiber content makes no significant difference in the amount of pesticide removed. However, shirts and pants of 100% polyester allow more penetration of pesticides, and should not be worn during pesticide application.

Research also indicates that fluorochemical soil repellent finishes for pesticide applicator protective apparel fabric reduce pesticide absorption, and thus give barrier properties to work clothes. However, such finishes are temporary, and should be reapplied after every second laundering. ScotchgardÆ is a trade name of a spray fluorochemical soil repellent finish.

Soil repellent treated garments, though, require more vigorous laundering treatment to remove pesticide residues. Use a pre-wash spot and stain product (such as Shout®, Spray 'n Wash®, and Stain Out®, etc.) with a heavy-duty liquid detergent (especially in hard water conditions) for better pesticide residue removal. If powdered, heavy duty detergents are used, do so only in soft water or use with a packaged water softener product (such as CalgonÆ), after treating with a pre-wash spot and stain product.

Find out when your spouse or other family members will be handling pesticides. Make it easy for them to keep contaminated garments separate from other laundry.

It's also important to know which chemicals are more toxic. Key words on all pesticide labels identify the toxicity of the product. For example: Poison Danger signifies a highly toxic or highly concentrated product; Warning, moderately toxic; and Caution, slightly toxic. The key word indicates toxicity level regardless of formulation.

Other factors which influence ease of removal are the formulation and concentration of the pesticide. Commonly used formulations are emulsifiable concentrates (EC), granulars (G), and wettable powders (WP). Water soluble formulations are easier to remove in laundering than oil based emulsifiable concentrates. Check pesticide label for formulation information.

Multiple washings are necessary if pesticide used is highly toxic or concentrated. In fact, discard clothing completely saturated with most concentrated, highly toxic pesticides. Use disposal directions on the side of the pesticide container label. Clothing contaminated with moderate or low-toxicity pesticides do not warrant such drastic measures.

Launder clothing after each day's use to maximize removal of chemicals. Accumulated residues are harder to remove. And, wearing clothing that already contains a pesticide puts the wearer at additional risk.

To properly launder pesticide-contaminated clothing, use the following procedures:

A word about protective clothing/safety:

Use disposable protective clothing when possible to limit contamination of clothes. This is especially important when the applicator is in direct contact with pesticides such as when mixing and loading pesticides for application. Exposure can be minimized with careful attention to label recommendations, safety practices and personal hygiene.


Laughlin and Gold, R.E. (1990). Water hardness, detergent type, and prewash product use as factors affecting methyl parathion residue retained in protective apparel fabrics. Clothing and Textile Research Journal, 8-4, 61-67.

North Central Cooperative Series (1988). Limiting pesticide exposure through textile cleaning procedures. #314.

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When Laundering Pesticide-Contaminated Clothing, Remember...

  • Be aware of when pesticides are being used so that clothing can be laundered appropriately.
  • Read the pesticide label for information.
  • Launder clothing daily when applying pesticide daily.
  • Pre-rinse clothing by spraying/hosing the garment(s) outdoors, presoaking in a suitable container, or agitating in an automatic washing machine. Pretreat if work clothes have a soil repellent finish.
  • Wash separately from family laundry. Discard clothing if thoroughly saturated with highly toxic pesticide.
  • Washing machine settings: Hot water temperature (140 degrees F/60 C), Extra Large/Large load, Regular/Normal (12 minutes) wash and spin cycles, Double rinse.
  • Wash a few contaminated garments at a time, using lots of hot water.
  • Re-wash the contaminated clothing two or three times if necessary.
  • Clean machine thoroughly after laundering contaminated clothing by running empty through complete cycle with hot water and detergent.
  • Line dry to avoid contaminating the automatic dryer.

All educational programs conducted by Ohio State University Extension are available to clientele on a nondiscriminatory basis without regard to race, color, creed, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, gender, age, disability or Vietnam-era veteran status.

Keith L. Smith, Associate Vice President for Ag. Adm. and Director, OSU Extension.

TDD No. 800-589-8292 (Ohio only) or 614-292-6181

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