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Laundering pesticide-contaminated clothes

Tana Haugen-Brown, Extension educator and Private Pesticide Applicator Program Manager - Pesticide Safety and Environmental Education and Lizabeth Stahl, Extension educator – crops

Figure 1. Publication from NDSU.
Pesticides pose a health risk, although the risk from a particular product is influenced by its toxicity and likelihood of exposure. Whenever you apply a pesticide, be it on the farm or in the yard, take care in handling clothing worn during application. Most pesticide labels state you need to wear a long-sleeve shirt, long pants, shoes, socks, and chemical-resistant gloves when applying, mixing, or loading a pesticide but they may not address what to do with the clothing you wore after you made the pesticide application. Pesticide-contaminated clothing is a potential source of pesticide exposure for applicators and their families.

During pesticide application, clothing can pick up pesticide residues through spills and drift. Tossing contaminated garments into the washer or laundry basket with other clothes can transfer pesticide residues to other garments and unintentionally expose other family members to the residues. For example, wearing a Tyvek® suit over your clothing when applying a pesticide can greatly reduce the potential for product to get onto your clothing, but accidental transfers can still occur. Applicators can lower the risk to themselves and their families by taking precautions.

Before you wash

  • While outdoors, shake, sweep, or dust off the clothing with compressed air and remove any dry material from the clothing. Pay special attention to cuffs and pockets where residues often collect.
  • Remove the clothing outside the home or establish a changing place in the home that can be decontaminated easily after each use.
  • Launder the clothing as soon as possible. If you don’t wash the items immediately, store them in a designated container or garbage bag outside the home, if possible, such as a garage, shop, or porch. Otherwise, store them in a designated area in the home that can be decontaminated easily after each use. Make sure children or animals don’t have access to these items before washing.
  • Discard any heavily contaminated clothing or leather apparel, especially if a concentrated product has spilled onto an item of clothing. Even with repeated washings, pesticides cannot be completely removed from these items. When washed, residues can transfer to other items in the load, and you’ll be exposing yourself to the remaining pesticide residues when wearing this clothing.

Washing tips

  • Read the pesticide label. Labels may give recommendations for laundering.
  • Keep contaminated clothes separate. NEVER mix them with your personal or family's laundry.
  • Wear nitrile gloves for protection when handling contaminated clothing.
  • Throw away heavily contaminated clothing.
  • Pre-rinse or pre-soak contaminated clothes before washing.
  • Use optimum settings during washing such as settings for an extra-large load/full load, heavy soil, hot water, long wash cycle, and high spin cycle.
  • Use heavy-duty liquid or powder detergent.
  • Run the washer on a full and empty “cleaning cycle” with detergent and hot water afterward.
  • Line dry washed laundry in the warm sunshine (sunshine helps break down any remaining pesticide residues) or a hot dryer (heat also helps break down any remaining pesticide residues).
  • If you use a dryer to dry the clothes, wipe out the dryer before using it for personal clothing again.

Remember, pesticide-contaminated work clothes should be changed and washed daily, and always be sure to check the pesticide label to see what should be worn when handling and applying pesticides. Wearing the required PPE (personal protective equipment) and properly handling clothing worn when working with pesticides will help reduce the risk of exposure to you and your family.

For more information

If you want to read more about laundering pesticide-contaminated clothing check out these additional resources:

Laundering Pesticide-contaminated Work Clothes (North Dakota State University)

Laundering Pesticide Contaminated Clothing (Montana State University)

How can I wash out pesticides from dirty work clothes? (National Pesticide Information Center)

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