University of Maryland Extension

Laundering Clothing After Pesticide Applications

Sara BhaduriHauck

After completing a pesticide application, it’s important to follow the correct procedures for removing and cleaning personal protective equipment (PPE) and clothing. While you should always read and follow any cleaning directions on the pesticide label, most product labels do not give specific information for washing clothes. Follow these tips when laundering clothing you wore while making a pesticide application.

Not all clothing can be decontaminated. Clothing that is highly saturated with pesticide, or clothing that has had a highly concentrated pesticide spilled on it, should be disposed of. Dispose of these items in the same way you would dispose of a full pesticide container. Some items, like leather and elastic bands, will absorb pesticide and cannot be properly cleaned or decontaminated. These types of items should be covered during the pesticide application with PPE that can be effectively cleaned.  

Not all items can be laundered. Some pieces of PPE cannot be washed in a washing machine and/or dried in a dryer. If non-launderable, wash the item with soap and water and let air dry, in the sun if possible.

Wash clothing after every application. Remove the clothing as soon as you are done applying pesticide. It’s a good idea to shower before putting on clean clothes. The clothing you removed should be washed as soon as possible. Don’t use the same clothing, such as the same pair of coveralls, for multiple applications. It’s harder to remove residues that have accumulated.

Consider all clothing as potentially contaminated and handle accordingly. When you remove your clothing, don’t put them on your family’s laundry hamper, on your bed, or on the floor. Residues from clothing can potentially be left anywhere the clothing touches. Either put removed clothing directly into the washing machine or in a disposable plastic bag. Close and label the bag so others know to be cautious with the clothing inside. Make sure the person who will launder the clothing knows how to safely handle and effectively clean them.

Pre-wash or pre-rinse. Clothing can be pre-washed or –rinsed outdoors or in your washing machine. Outdoors you can use a pail of hot water or simply rinse the garments off. Be sure to do so in a safe area away from gardens and where children or pets play. It’s best to dispose of the rinsate in your septic system (down the drain) rather than letting it soak into the soil. Some washing machines have specific pre-wash cycles. You may run a quick wash, small load, or other similar cycle, depending on the make and model of your washing machine. Your machine’s manual should explain the best cycle to use.

Load the washer safely. Open the washer door, add the detergent, set the cycle, and then load clothing into the washing machine. It’s a good idea to wear gloves when handling clothing, as you should consider all clothing as potentially contaminated. When you’re done touching the clothing, wash your hands before you close the door to the machine. Pesticide clothing should always be washed separately and not with your family’s laundry.

Don’t over- or under-fill the machine. Clothing needs sufficient agitation and enough circulating water to effectively remove pesticide residues, both of which can be inhibited if the load is too full. If you are using a high-efficiency (HE) machine, ensure you are not under-filling the machine. Front-loading HE washing machines do not have a center agitator so the clothing in the machine is what provides agitation. HE machines generally clean best at 2/3 to 3/4 full; read your machine’s manual for details on the specific model. If your load is small, you may need to bulk the load to achieve adequate agitation. It’s best to bulk with small items like hand towels or bath towels cut into smaller pieces. Any items you use to bulk the load should be designated to this purpose only and never used around the house or farm. Once clean, bulking items should be stored in a closed, labeled container or bag.

Use the right detergent. If the pesticide label doesn’t specify otherwise, use liquid detergent if you have applied liquid pesticide or powdered detergent if you have applied powdered pesticide. If the garments are highly soiled, use 1 ½ to 2 times the amount of detergent specified on the package. Don’t use more than 2 times the recommended amount as it can create excessive suds which can restrict agitation.

Use the correct laundry additives. Bleach does not help remove pesticides. You may use bleach to launder pesticide clothing unless the clothing has also been contaminated with ammonia fertilizer. (When bleach mixes with ammonia, it creates deadly chlorine gas.) Use of fabric softener does not help or hinder removal of pesticide residues. Starch applied to clothing before making a pesticide application can help make fabrics less permeable and make removal of pesticides during washing more effective. If you are washing clothing that has been starched, use 25% more detergent. Starch must be reapplied after each washing.

Choose the best cycle. They key to effective removal of pesticide residue is water, water, water. Use the longest wash cycle on your machine. The wash cycle should be at least 12 minutes long. Use the hottest water you can – at least 140-160 degrees Fahrenheit. You may need to turn up your water heater if it is set lower. Use the highest water level your machine allows, and turn on the extra rinse if your machine has one. If the clothing was heavily soiled, you may need to wash it more than once.   

Decontaminate the washer once your clothes are finished washing. Run a regular wash cycle with hot water and detergent. This is necessary to make sure you’ve removed any pesticide residue from your washing machine before you launder your family’s clothing in the machine.

Dry your clothing outside if you can, in the sun if possible. Hang for at least 24 hours. If weather doesn’t permit outside line drying, dry your clothing in the dryer. It’s not recommended to line dry pesticide clothing in the house. If you use the dryer, make sure you’ve closely followed all the steps to proper laundering and are confident that your clothes are decontaminated. Dryers cannot be decontaminated, should contaminated clothing leave residues inside.


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