Question To An Expert: Could Second-hand Clothes Be Hazardous To Health?

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Question To An Expert: Could Second-hand Clothes Be Hazardous To Health?
Question To An Expert: Could Second-hand Clothes Be Hazardous To Health?
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Text: Tanya Reshetnik

ANSWERS TO MOST OF THE QUESTIONS ARE EXCITING TO US we used to search online. In the new series of materials, we ask just such questions: burning, unexpected or common - to professionals in various fields.


There are still many myths and misconceptions about second-hand items. The most common of them - a thing that previously belonged to someone else, can carry "bad energy" and be a spread of infections. If the first one simply does not stand up to criticism, then we decided to deal with the second statement. Do I need to wash a thing after buying it in a second hand? How are clothes processed in vintage shops? Could jackets, dresses, and other wardrobe items belonging to someone else be dangerous? We asked these and other questions to experts.

Marina Chuikina

founder of Strogo Vintage, co-founder of Vintage Marketplace


I do not know of a single case of infection from the thing and have never heard of anything like this from colleagues. We are selectors: we make most of our purchases in vintage shops, second-hand and charity shops in Europe. All goods sold there undergo preliminary antimicrobial treatment (it can be chemical - with the help of cleaning agents - and heat. - Approx. ed.), after which they are sorted and distributed to stores. The next stage is already ours - every thing (whether it is perfectly clean clothes from European second-hand or an item bought online or at a flea market) is washed before we put it up for sale, and what can only be dry cleaned is sent to dry cleaning … Then we iron everything with an iron or a steamer, and treat jewelry and shoes with a chlorhexidine solution.

Nevertheless, we still recommend that you wash or clean the item yourself after purchase. For example, because while the clothes are in the store, photographers and stylists often take them for shooting.

Ekaterina Borisova

founder of Mix & Match Vintage


In most European countries and in the United States, from where we bring vintage clothing, systems for the collection, sorting, processing and sale of used clothing have long existed, and systems for multi-stage thermal and chemical disinfecting and disinfesting treatment have been developed. This makes it safe for future use.

The specific scent of second-hand, which many confuse with the "old smell", is in fact the result of such processing. This scent, frankly, is not very similar to a selective perfume, moreover, hygienic treatment does not get rid of dust and stains on clothes. That's why at Mix & Match Vintage we just dry clean everything so that they go on sale in a condition close to perfect.

In Russia, second-hand shops have long been popular, things for which are bought in bales from European or American factories - these clothes have already been sorted and cleaned, they have all the certificates of conformity and safety. For professional vintage stores in Russia, cleaned and safe goods are selected by the piece in vintage stores in Europe or America. Here they are additionally cleaned to comply with Russian sanitary standards.

However, in addition to proven vintages, second-hand shops and second-hand shops, there are also services like Avito, where, unfortunately, there are no security guarantees. Therefore, if you are not sure of the origin of the item, then take it to the dry cleaner after purchase or wash it, and then iron it thoroughly with a hot iron, if the care instructions permit.


Anna Rameeva

doctor-therapist of the clinic "Rassvet"


Is there a risk of transmission of infections, in particular those affecting the skin and mucous membranes? Unfortunately, it is impossible to give an unambiguous answer.The thing is that the generalized concept of "second-hand" includes the disorder with unsorted clothes in open-air bazaars, and large stores selling things by weight, and modern second-hand shops of branded clothing, not much different from branded boutiques.

Most of the inexpensive second-hand shops work with clothes that come to the store from large warehouses. It is brought to the warehouse in large bales with accompanying documentation on the processing (dry cleaning), without which it is impossible to cross the border - this is if we are talking about clothes from abroad. The question is how long and in what conditions the garment was stored after processing, how well it was packaged and how long it was in the store. But you must admit that these questions can be safely asked in a situation with new clothes, because the number of permissible fittings before the purchase is not indicated on the tag.

In 2011, experts from the International Science Forum on Home Hygiene published a detailed report on the risks of infectious disease transmission through clothing and the role of laundries. The document was based on an analysis of the results of scientific research conducted around the world since 1997. It turned out that the greatest risks of infection transmission arise immediately after tissue contact with an infected source and decrease over time as the number of viable microbial units decreases. On the surface of the tissue, viruses and many gram-negative bacteria (eg E. coli) persist for several hours. But bacteria that are resistant to desiccation, such as clostridia, Staphylococcus aureus (including those resistant to most antibiotics - MRSA) and fungal spores, can persist for up to several days or even weeks.

Considering that many can afford to wash their clothes in a washing machine, the real risk of transmitting infections through clothing in everyday life seems to researchers to be less than the risk of transmission through hands and surfaces in contact with food. So it is worthwhile to separately wash the item immediately after purchase in order to prevent possible skin, respiratory and intestinal infections.

Essential clarifications. The antimicrobial effect of automatic washing is due to a combination of mechanical, thermal and chemical factors. Its key parameters are: the water temperature in the main cycle is at least 70 degrees, the duration of the main cycle is at least twenty-five minutes, the use of washing powder with bleach (oxygen or chlorine), as well as maximum spinning speed. Most of the recommendations also specify ironing on both sides of the garment and / or steaming as a mandatory step in completing the garment.

Not every item will stand up to this test, especially if washing this type of fabric is contraindicated. Then dry cleaning will come to the rescue. It is important to note, however, that none of the solvents used in the dry cleaning process, not even the most effective and common perchlorethylene, is bactericidal for as long as the garment is in the drum of the dry cleaning machine. However, drying with intense streams of hot air during centrifugation and subsequent steaming at high temperatures is an effective and safe method of antimicrobial treatment.

Most shoppers underestimate the much more real problem of mold spores and dust mite antigens, especially if the garment has been stored in damp, poorly ventilated areas or has just come a long way to reach its customer. Such tissues can lead to exacerbation of bronchial asthma, hay fever, skin rash and itching. If you are prone to allergies, use acaricidal agents (antiparasitic, anti-mite. - Approx. ed.) for washing laundry.The use of such products is justified for fabrics that cannot be washed at a temperature of 60 degrees and above. Their only drawback is their chemical aroma, which can persist on the fabric even after rinsing.

Often, lovers of vintage clothing are worried about whether fabrics are harmful, especially synthetic ones made many decades ago. Some worry that fibers naturally release carcinogens during natural degradation. To be honest, there has been no research to give a definite answer to this question. Using common sense, it can be said that life in a metropolis is associated with a daily multifactorial impact on health. And even if in in vitro experiments an unfavorable effect of certain decomposition products of textile fibers is found, it will be impossible to prove this effect in an experiment on a person.

It's logical to assume that you won't be wearing a polyester blouse around the clock for many months, so don't worry about that. It is useful when shopping for vintage clothing to shake it a few times and then wipe the surface of the fabric with your hand or a white tissue. Some materials, such as polyester linings, begin to disintegrate over time, forming fine dust. It can be found with simple testing. It is better, of course, to refuse such a thing.

Photos: vitaly tiagunov -, New Africa -

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