PFAS are a group of man-made chemicals that have been used in a variety of products since the 1940s. In recent years, it has come to light that these chemicals can be harmful to human health, and they have been linked to a variety of adverse health effects. If you have PFAS in your drinking water, you may be wondering if it’s safe to wash your clothes.
According to the CDC, washing your clothes in water containing PFAS is not a significant health risk. Only a very small amount of PFAS might adsorb to the fibers in your clothing during a laundry cycle. The risk of PFAS on your clothes being absorbed through your skin is very low.
In this blog post, we’ll discuss the potential risks from washing clothes in water that contains PFAS. We also review the health concerns over PFAS and provide some tips on how to protect your family from PFAS exposure.
PFAS are present in many household products, such as nonstick cookware, food packaging, and carpeting. They can also be found in some types of clothing, such as waterproof rainwear. PFAS are also used in some industries, such as electronics manufacturing and stain-resistant coatings.
What is PFAS
PFAS are a group of man-made chemicals that have been used in a variety of products since the 1940s. There are more than 4,000 different types of PFAS.
Some of the more well-known PFAS compounds include:
- PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid)
- PFOS (perfluorooctanesulfonic acid)
- GenX (hexafluoropropene oxide)
These chemicals are sometimes referred to as “forever chemicals” because they do not break down in the environment and can accumulate in the human body over time.
Per-fluorinated compounds are found in a wide range of products, including:
- Nonstick cookware
- Food packaging
- Waterproof rainwear
- Stain-resistant coatings
Read my comprehensive article on PFAS to learn more about these man-made chemicals and how you may be exposed to them.
Why is PFAS in my water
One way that people may be exposed to PFAS is through drinking water. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has identified more than 700 sites nationwide where PFAS have been detected in groundwater, including military bases, airports, and factories.
These sites may be contaminated with PFAS because of past or current disposal practices, such as:
- Dumping or landfilling of PFAS-containing waste
- Improper disposal of PFAS-containing products
- Fire training facilities
Concerns with PFAS
In recent years, it has come to light that these chemicals can be harmful to human health, and they have been linked to a variety of adverse health effects. Some of the potential health effects of PFAS exposure include:
- Hormone disruption
- High cholesterol
- Immune system problems
- Thyroid problems
- Liver damage
- Pregnancy complications
Can I Wash My Clothes in Water with PFAS in It?
Experts agree – doing laundry with contaminated water is not a major source of exposure to PFAS.
This doesn’t mean that there is NO risk associated with washing your clothes. It just means that, relative to all of the other ways we’re exposed to PFAS, doing laundry is pretty insignificant.
Does PFAs contaminate my clothes?
When you wash your clothes in PFAS-contaminated water, the water is absorbed throughout the fabric. Some of the PFAS dissolved in the water will adsorb (i.e. stick to) the fibers in your clothes.
Most of the PFAS in each load of laundry stays dissolved in the water. It ends up being dumped down the drain with the wastewater.
The amount of PFAS that adsorbs to your clothes is extremely small. How small? A rough estimate is less than 1 nanogram.
1 nanogram equals 2.204 x 10-12 pounds. That’s 12 zero’s!
What weighs 1 nanogram?
- 1 human cell (on average)
- 1,000 bacteria
As you can see, this is a trivial amount of PFAS that ends up in your clothes. In addition, just because these chemicals are attached to your clothing, doesn’t mean they’re going to rub off on your skin.
Can you absorb PFAS through your skin?
Should you be worried about PFAS on your clothes being absorbed through your skin?
According to the CDC, only a small amount of PFAS can pass through your skin into your body from contact with PFAS. They aren’t saying that none of the PFAS will be absorbed. Just very little.
A recent study published in Food and Chemical Toxicology found that PFOA can pass through the skin and cause health problems. This seems to suggest that PFAS on your clothes is a potential source of exposure.
What about children?
Children are much more sensitive to PFAS than adults. They absorb more of the chemical when they’re exposed, and their bodies are more vulnerable to the health effects.
So, if you’re concerned about PFAS in your water, it’s even more important to take steps to protect your children.
Are PFAS in laundry detergent?
PFAS compounds are used to improve the effectiveness of laundry detergents. Consumer Reports conducted sampling of several national brands and found PFAS in Tide.
Several brands of stain removers are made from ingredients that contain PFAS compounds. Read my article on products that contain PFAS for a comprehensive list.
How Are You Exposed to PFAS
Based on everything we know about PFAS, washing your clothes in water that contains these chemicals is not a major source of exposure. However, we are exposed to these dangerous contaminants in a variety of other ways. Here is a list of the most common ways:
- Drinking water – The most common way we’re exposed to PFAS is through our drinking water. If you live near a manufacturing site, military base, or landfill that has been contaminated with PFAS, it’s possible the chemicals have made their way into your water supply.
- Eating food – Another common source of exposure is eating food that has been contaminated with PFAS. These chemicals can enter the food supply through contaminated water or soil.
- Eating fast food and take-out – If you eat a lot of fast food or take-out, you’re also exposed to PFAS. These chemicals are often used in the packaging of these foods.
- Living near a manufacturing site – If you live near a factory that uses PFAS, you may be exposed to the chemicals through air pollution.
- Working at a manufacturing site – Workers at factories that use PFAS are at an increased risk of exposure.
- Using products that contain PFAS – A variety of consumer products contain PFAS. This includes non-stick cookware, fast-food wrappers, and stain-resistant clothing.
What Can You Do
Even though health authorities tell us that washing our clothes in water that contains PFAS is not a major source of exposure, it’s still something we should be concerned about. The best way to protect yourself and your family is to avoid using products that contain these chemicals.
Here are some simple steps to protect yourself and your family.
Buy clothes that are PFAS-free
Did you know that many clothes are treated with PFAS chemicals? These chemicals make the clothes water and stain resistant. A lot of exercise related clothing is high in PFAS.
To protect yourself, avoid purchasing clothes advertised as water-, grease-, and stain-resistant.
Treat your water to remove PFAS
If your water is contaminated with PFAS, you can install a treatment system to remove it. There are several very effective treatment systems on the market.
- Reverse osmosis. Reverse osmosis is a very effective treatment method for removing PFAS from water. RO works by forcing water through a very fine membrane. The pores in the membrane are so small that only water molecules can pass through. Reverse osmosis can remove 99% or more of PFAS from water. Read my article on removing PFAS from water using reverse osmosis.
- Activated carbon filters. Activated carbon filters are also very effective at removing PFAS from water. Carbon filters works through a process called adsorption in which the PFAS molecules are bound to the pores in the carbon granules. Carbon filters can remove 99% of the larger PFAS molecules. It is less effective at removing the smaller molecules. Read my article on treating PFAS with carbon filters.
You should use a whole-house treatment system rather than a point-of-use filter remove PFAS from all the water in your home, not just the water you drink. This will treat the water that is used for laundry. I wrote an article on POE vs POU treatment systems that explains this concept in greater detail.
Test your water
If you’re worried that your water is contaminated with PFAS, you should test it. You can either test the water yourself with a home test kit or send it to a laboratory.
If you want to use a home test kit, I recommend the Tap Score PFAS water test. The kit comes with everything you need to collect the sample and send it off to the laboratory. They provide a complete report along with an explanation of what the results mean.
If you want to have your water professionally tested, I recommend sending it to a laboratory that is state-certified to perform PFAS testing
Educate yourself about PFAS
The best way to protect yourself is to become informed about PFAS and its dangers. Understanding how you can be exposed to these toxins will help you take steps to avoid them.
This blog has several articles on PFAS. They are a great way to start learning about this topic.
Is it OK to use PFAS contaminated water for cooking?
There is no reason to worry about the use of contaminated tap water for cooking. The amount of PFAS that gets into your food from cooking is extremely low.
Is it OK to shower and bathe in PFAS-containing water?
The CDC has said that showering and bathing are not a significant risk for exposure to PFAS chemicals. You can take a few simple precautions like taking shorter showers, turning on the exhaust fan, and showering less frequently to protect yourself. Read my article that answers the question Can you shower in water that has PFAS in it.
Can I wash my dishes in water with PFAS in it?
It is perfectly fine to wash your dishes in water that has PFAS in it. The amount of PFAS that gets onto your dishes from washing is very low, so they won’t transfer these chemicals to your food. You’re also unlikely to absorb PFAS through your skin while doing the dishes, either.
Can I brush my teeth in water that has PFAS in it?
As long as you don’t swallow the water, brushing your teeth with water that has PFAS is considered safe. Only a minuscule amount of PFAS actually gets absorbed by your body through your gums. Parents should watch their children while they brush their teeth to make sure they don’t accidentally swallow any water.
So, can you wash your clothes with water that has PFAS in it? The answer is yes. Washing your clothes in water containing PFAS is not a significant risk for exposure to PFAS.
The main way people are exposed to PFAS chemicals is through ingestion – swallowing, drinking, and cooking. The amount of PFAS absorbed through our skin is quite low.
The risk of PFAS in your clothes transferring to your skin and then being absorbed into your body is very low. If you are concerned about exposure to these chemicals, there are things you can do to reduce your exposure, like eating fresh fruits and vegetables and avoiding processed foods. You can also avoid using products that contain PFAS.