By: Tanya Foster
HARRISBURG, Pa. -- When you purchase new clothes, you expect them to be clean. But do you wash them before wearing them?
When you go shopping for clothes, does it ever occur to you about whether or not the item you're about to buy is actually clean? CBS 21 put clothes into a lab for answers.
Several people CBS 21 asked said they didn't wash the clothing they purchase at stores. Some assumed it was already clean, others said the thought to wash the clothing never occurred to them.
The assumption the clothing is clean is common -- it's new, so it's clean. But that's not always the case.
For example, the new pair of jeans you may purchase may have been worn and returned and put right back on the rack. Also, what about the number of times an item is tried on in a dressing room then returned to the shelf?
"Even new clothes off the rack, if people are trying them on, they get bacteria and stuff on them from people just trying them on," shopper Jen Orr said.
"You never know who has touched them before you -- you don't know the state of their bodies," shopper Halmia Smith said.
To check how clean new clothes really are, CBS 21 anchor Tanya Foster went shopping, buying a pair of pants, a shirt, a dress and a pair of shoes, all of them new, and all of them from stores around central Pennsylvania.
For comparison purposes, items were also purchased from a local second store to be tested for cleanliness.
Not only were clothing off the shelves tested, but so was wrapped clothing, like a package of underwear.
The clothing was taken to the science lab at Harrisburg University, and checked by biotechnology professor Leena Patterkine.
"They look clean, but let's see exactly how clean they are," Patterkine said.
Each item of clothing was swabbed and placed into an incubator.
"Washed clothing, brand new clothing, even I'm curious to see what comes out of it," Patterkine said.
Within 24 hours the results were ready, and they were disturbing.
The shirts, both the new and second hand ones, had bacteria in the shirts.
"New and used and it's the neck. I guess someone tried it and the old one wasn't really washed properly," Patterkine said.
Smith said she wasn't surprised by the shirts having the same amount of bacteria.
"Would that surprise me? No, because it's practically a second hand item that you're getting in the first place. It's new, you paid for it, but other people have touched it and have tried it on," Smith said.
As for the pants, both new and used items had very small traces of bacteria.
The shoes, however, were a different story.
The new shoes showed bacteria growth. But what was surprising, the shoes from the second hand store were bacteria free.
The packaged underwear was the last thing checked, and as Patterkine explained, bacteria growth was discovered.
The bacteria on the underwear was circular and yellow, very different from the bacteria on the shirts, Patterkine said.
"I don't know, I'm completely floored with that. You (Tanya) opened it front of me," Patterkine said.
"That's kind of gross. That's really gross actually," Orr said.
"Of course that's alarming. I'm disgusted. I shouldn't wear underwear anymore," Smith said.
Experts recommend before wearing any clothes, wash them, and if the material allows, wash them in the hottest cycle possible. The only way to kill everything is to use bleach.
Bleach may not be the best option for shoes, so in that case, taken an antibacterial cloth and wipe the insides.
"Our bodies are very resilient, even if you have bacteria, you have bacteria on your skin, but there are only certain kinds that make you sick," Patterkine said.
Experts also recommended wearing clothes underneath any clothing you are trying on and to always wash your hands following trying on new clothes.
Overall, experts said people shouldn't be worried. Formaldehyde is often put on new clothes to prevent bacteria from growing during shipping, which is another good reason to wash before wearing any items.
The experiment did bury some of the misconceptions about second-hand stores, something that wasn't intended to be done with the story, but the experiment certainly did just that.