Laundering Pesticide Contaminated Clothing
The use of pesticides may pose a direct risk to the applicator. The use of pesticides by an applicator may also pose an indirect risk to his or her family. 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 the residue to the other garments and unwittingly to other family members.
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 (Ohio State University).
Applicators can first lower the risk to their families by taking some precautions:
Spray clothing should be changed and washed daily.
Before entering the house, discard clothing saturated with highly toxic, undiluted pesticides, and discard any contaminated leather apparel. The pesticide can't be completely removed from these items.
Pre-rinse other garments twice in a pail of hot water. Empty the prerinse water into the septic system, or use the water in following pesticide applications.
If the clothing can be laundered, inform the person doing the wash about the pesticide-contaminated clothes and tell whether the pesticide was in a liquid or powder form.
It is important to know which chemicals are more toxic. Key words on all pesticide labels, called "Signal Words" 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.
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.
Hazards are less pronounced in handling clothing exposed to low toxicity pesticides. The ease of pesticide removal through laundering does not depend on toxicity level; however, it depends on chemical class, solubility, and formulation of the pesticide. For example, 2,4-D amine is easily removed through laundering because it is soluble in water; 2,4-D ester is much more difficult to remove through laundering.
Clothing contaminated with highly toxic and concentrated pesticides must be handled most carefully, as these pesticides can be absorbed through the skin, and/or cause serious skin injury. In general, as the concentration of active ingredients (a.i.) in the pesticide increases, the removal of pesticide residue by laundering decreases.
A Nebraska study on highly toxic methyl parathion concentrate (54 percent a.i.) indicated that less than 20 percent was removed by one laundering. After 10 launderings, 34 percent of the concentrate remained in the fabric. The level of residue remaining was enough to kill insects, and to cause major health hazards to humans.
Therefore, 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
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. In additiona, do not allow children to play in or near the contaminated clothing. Do not dry-clean pesticide-contaminated clothing.
Follow these steps to properly launder pesticide-contaminated clothing.
- Keep contaminated clothing separate from other garments. Use a disposable plastic bag placed in a plastic box to hold them rather than a cloth bag or laundry basket. Wear rubber gloves when putting contaminated garments into the bag, and again when placing garments in the washer. If pesticide has left a stain, apply a prewash soil and stain remover or rub in a heavy duty liquid detergent.
- Pre-rinse contaminated clothing by hosing down outdoors, soaking in a separate tub or pail, or agitating in the washing machine. If rinsing outdoors, rinse and dispose of water away from ground water sources and away from areas where children play or animals are kept.
- Ideally, a separate washer should be purchased and used to wash pesticide contaminated clothing but always wash contaminated clothing separately from the family wash. Research shows that pesticide residues are transferred from contaminated clothing to other clothing when they are laundered together.
- Wash only a few contaminated garments at a time. Wash garments contaminated by the same pesticides together.
- Use as hot a water temperature as possible--the hotter the better. Cold water washing may save energy, but it will not remove the pesticide effectively.
- Set washer water level for extra large or large load to flush fabrics thoroughly. Use regular cycle (at least 12 minutes) and normal wash speed settings. A double rinse is recommended.
- Use the recommended amount of heavy duty liquid laundry detergent--don't skimp. Research shows that heavy duty liquid detergents, known for their oil removing ability, are more effective in removing emulsifiable concentrate (EC) pesticide formulations, which are oil based. Either the heavy duty liquid, or heavy duty powder detergents under soft water conditions, effectively remove non-oil based pesticide residues.
- Laundry additives such as chlorine bleach or ammonia do not improve removal of pesticide residues. Never use ammonia and chlorine bleach in the same wash load. Irritating fumes will result!
- Multiple washings are needed if clothing was worn when using highly toxic or concentrated pesticides. Clothing worn while using low toxicity products may be laundered effectively in one machine washing. Check the pesticide label for keywords indicating toxicity levels. Remember to discard clothing heavily soiled with full-strength or concentrated liquid pesticides.
- Line dry the garments. This prevents the possibility of residues collecting in the dryer.
- Remove any leftover pesticides from the washer by running an "empty load" through the complete cycle, using hot water, full or normal water level, detergent, and normal or regular machine settings and cycles.
Choose a phosphate (powdered) detergent or a heavy-duty liquid detergent. Heavy-duty
liquid detergents are
particularly effective in removing oily emulsifiable concentrate (EC) formulations, and are insensitive to water hardness. Phosphate-powdered detergents are particularly effective in removing particulate soils (wettable powder formulations), but are sensitive to hard water.
Where there are elevated levels of water hardness (>500 ppm) an additional amount of phosphate-powdered detergent must be used to obtain the same level of residue removal as is found with a heavy-duty liquid detergent when laundering fabrics treated with the soil repellent finish.
Note:If a soil/water repellent finish (such as Scotchgard®) has been applied to the fabric to increase wearer protection, use 1.25 times the amount of detergent recommended on the package label. Remember that if
the detergent used is a phosphate detergent, and if the water is moderately hard, the detergent amount may need to be increased even more. Do not use more than twice the recommended amount, since excess detergent suds can "cushion" the agitation and decrease removal.
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.
Consider using fabric starch as pesticide residues cling to the starch and are removed in the subsequent wash cycle when the temporarycoating of starch is washed away. Since it absorbs the pesticide, starch, in effect, inhibits some of the penetration of the pesticide into the cotton fiber where dislodgement in laundering becomes so difficult.
If you use these repellents, renew them after every second or third wash.
Do not dry clean pesticide contaminated clothing.. This process is not recommended because it includes the use of solvents. Solvent may be recycled through dilution, filtration, activated charcoal adsorption or distillation. However, pesticides still may be present in recycled solvents, and can be transferred from one load to subsequent loads of dry cleaning.
Copy the following and post it in your washroom.
- 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, 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.
Frequently Asked Questions
Should I really discard my contaminated clothing or is laundering enough to get them clean?
If a garment is contaminated with low-toxicity pesticide then launder the garment. The pesticide should be removed by following the directions on page one of this pamphlet. When a garment is soaked with highly toxic, full-strength pesticide, discard it. Laundering a saturated garment, even repeatedly, may not get all the pesticide out of it. To prevent reuse, slash the contaminated garment. Dispose of it in a tightly closed plastic bag. It is best to err on the side of caution, so if ever in doubt, throw a pesticide-soiled garment away.
Is discarding a leather item really necessary?
Leather watch bands, boots and gloves cannot be decontaminated. When contaminated leather is worn and becomes damp, the person is exposed to the pesticide again. Leather items should be discarded because of this hazard.
Do I really need to wear gloves to handle pesticide-soiled clothing?
Gloves help prevent pesticide from being absorbed by the skin. Never handle pesticide-contaminated clothing with your bare hands. Select unlined chemical-resistant gloves such as latex rubber gloves. Rinse gloves with hot water and detergent before taking them off to clean any pesticide from them.
Can I wait until the end of the week to wash pesticide-contaminated clothing?
It is best not to. Wash pesticide-contaminated clothing daily, and as soon as possible after wearing, to remove the most pesticide. Allowing pesticide-contaminated clothes to sit for a long time may make the pesticide more difficult to remove.
Can I safely prerinse pesticide-soiled clothing with my washing machine's presoak setting?
Prerinsing in a pail of water removes some of the pesticide before clothes are put in the washer. This is the first line of defense in protecting the family's wash from contamination. Never prerinse contaminated clothing in your washing machine. Always use a separate wash pail or tub.
Can laundering additives help?
Starch, yes. Cotton or cotton-blend fabrics may be starched to help prevent pesticides from reaching the skin. Starch seems to trap pesticide so that both the starch and pesticide wash away in the next laundry. Starch must be reapplied after each wash. Heavy starching of the lower pantlegs helps form a pesticide-barrier and shouldn't be uncomfortable to the wearer.
Ammonia and chlorine bleach, no. Ammonia and bleach have not been shown to assist in removing pesticide residues. Never use bleach and ammonia in the same wash load; toxic fumes result.
Fabric softeners, no. Studies show that fabric softeners neither help nor hinder residue removal in cotton fabrics.
Prewash sprays, maybe. Solvent-based aerosol sprays assist removal of oil-based pesticide formulations in cottons. To tell if prewash sprays contain a solvent, read the caution label. It should say something like, "Caution: Contains petroleum solvents."
Salt, maybe. Salt helps remove paraquat, but not other pesticides. Add 1 cup of table salt to your wash load with regular detergent.