How’s your laundry’s chemical hygiene?

So what'd you do with those pants, anyway?

Credit: University of Ottawa EH&S

A recent report from the President’s Cancer Panel on the environmental causes of cancer* had a rather interesting recommendation relevant to chemists. As to what you could do to lower your risk and your family’s, here’s what it said (page 111):

“Family exposure to numerous occupational chemicals can be reduced by removing shoes before entering the home and washing work clothes separately from the other family laundry.”

So what do you think of that? As chemists, we are presumably more exposed than the typical person, although I suspect that there are industrial workers (coal miners?) who are even more exposed than us.

I know that I have typically avoided bringing my shoes into the home (but, then again, I’ve always taken off my shoes before I enter my home). Recently, I have begun washing my work clothes separately from my family’s. Due to my work circumstances, I’m guessing that I carry home more compound that the average chemist. Then again, it’s the same washing machine. Short of running an ethanol rinse between washes (can you imagine the cost?), I don’t know if there’s a good answer for that one.

I’m terribly interested to know what other people’s habits are about their clothing and chemical hygiene? Do you let your kids hug you when you walk in the door from work? Do you let your dog chew on your work shoes? Inquiring minds want to know…

*Folks (e.g. Derek Lowe) have been pretty critical of the report. I’ve noticed that it’s pretty long on assertion myself. Nonetheless, it’s an interesting topic.

Photo from the University of Ottawa’s lab EH&S site.


  1. Assuming you keep your house clean and you don’t have children/pets eating off the floor I wouldn’t worry about it.

  2. never wear shoes inside home, any shoe is unwelcomed inside the house. lab coats washed in a facility of university specific for lab coats.

  3. Why not wash your clothes at the laundromat?

  4. I don’t make any considerations about the clothes I wear to & fro and only a couple of times have I ever gotten comments about smelling “like lab.” I did stop wearing poly/cotton blends after the Sheri Sangji accident.

    A few years ago I noticed that almost all of my t-shirts have a group of small holes right around my belt line. At first I thought my apartment complex laundry machine was killing my clothes, but I saw another person in my department had similar holes in an almost identical position and realized that something (probably dilute HCl or NaOH) was splashing from the sash of the hood onto my shirts.

  5. Those holes are NOT urine, I can attest to that. I get the holes even when I’m not doing wet chemistry; it’s possibly from friction against a belt? I’ve never been too concerned with contamination at home. If I were running huge scale things, maybe, but we’re not working with process chemical volumes here, and I’m most certainly not swimming in hexanes and DMF, nor am I stepping on solid methylating reagents, so I assume volatiles evaporate enough and I just plain ol’ don’t get anything else on me. Perhaps that’s naive, but washing separately isn’t feasible either!

  6. Have a pair of shoes worn only at work. Keep it at work. Use of a lab coat should sufficiently protect the upper part of the body. I wouldn’t worry about washing work clothes with the rest of the family clothing. However, if large amounts of chemicals are getting on clothing then there is a real safety problem that needs to be addressed.

  7. Family exposure to numerous occupational chemicals can be reduced by removing shoes before entering the home

    Everyone in my family do that since I was a children!

  8. For me (working at a lab scale), I think the exposure of our clothing to chemicals is minimal. Proper use of protective equipment (i.e. wearing a lab coat and gloves!) should keep work clothes free from any special consideration at home. The lab coat is laundered with all the other lab coats by a service.

    For larger scale folks, I would assume the same, if they are using full protective suits.

    Getting splashed by something changes things a little – a lab coat does not make you invulnerable any more than nitrile gloves do.

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