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Is it safe to wear clothes with permethrin?

What is permethrin?

Permethrin is an insecticide that belongs to a class of chemicals called pyrethroids. It works by disrupting the nervous system of insects, causing paralysis and death.

Permethrin is highly effective against insects like mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, and lice. It has very low toxicity to mammals like humans and dogs when used appropriately. For this reason, permethrin is commonly used to treat clothing, mosquito nets, and camping gear to help repel insects.

How is permethrin applied to clothing?

Permethrin can be directly applied to clothing through spraying or soaking. It binds tightly to fabric fibers, remaining effective through multiple washings. Some companies also pre-treat clothing items like socks, pants, and shirts with permethrin.

To apply permethrin yourself, you can buy permethrin sprays or soak clothing in diluted permethrin solutions. It’s important to closely follow instructions to apply an appropriate concentration. Too much permethrin may cause skin irritation, while too little will make the treatment ineffective.

Is permethrin-treated clothing safe?

Yes, wearing permethrin-treated clothing is considered very safe when applied properly. Here are some key facts about the safety of permethrin-treated clothing:

Low toxicity to humans

Permethrin has very low toxicity to humans compared to insects. Exposure studies show permethrin has a large margin of safety when used as directed. For example, the lethal dose for rats is over 4000 mg/kg body weight, while mosquitoes only need 6 mg/kg for a lethal dose.

Poor absorption through skin

Permethrin binds tightly to fabrics and does not absorb well through the skin. Dermal absorption studies show only around 1% of permethrin applied to fabric is absorbed. Most exposure comes through inhalation of spray droplets during application. Once dried, the risk of exposure is extremely low.

Breaks down quickly

On fabric, permethrin breaks down through sunlight, washing, and degradation over time. Most permethrin has dissipated after about 6 weeks of regular use. The insecticide won’t persist or accumulate in the environment.

Registered as safe by the EPA

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has evaluated and registered permethrin as safe for clothing application. EPA approval means permethrin meets safety requirements for its intended uses.

Potential risks of permethrin-treated clothing

While permethrin clothing is considered very low risk, there are some potential hazards to be aware of:

Skin irritation

Direct skin exposure to permethrin may cause mild irritation or numbness. Wearing too much permethrin or repeated exposure could increase irritation. Stick to recommended application levels to avoid excess permethrin.

Asthma symptoms

Inhaling permethrin during spraying may trigger asthma symptoms in sensitive individuals. Use permethrin in well-ventilated areas and avoid breathing spray to minimize exposure.

Harm to aquatic life

Permethrin is highly toxic to fish and aquatic invertebrates. Take care to avoid contamination of lakes or streams when applying permethrin outdoors. Always follow instructions carefully.

Damage to fabrics

While permethrin won’t stain or bleach fabrics, excessive amounts or incorrect application can weaken elastic and plastics on clothing. Use proper concentrations and allow clothing to fully dry to avoid fabric damage.

Who may want to avoid permethrin

Permethrin-treated clothing is safe for most people when following label directions. But some individuals may want to take extra precautions:

– Pregnant women – Animal studies don’t indicate reproductive or developmental risks, but more data is needed. Pregnant women may want to minimize exposure as a precaution.

– Children – Young children could be more vulnerable to effects. Limit use on children’s clothing until they are older.

– People with asthma or allergies – Permethrin may trigger asthma attacks or skin rashes in those with sensitivities. Test on a small patch of fabric first.

– Cats and fish owners – Permethrin is highly toxic to cats and fish. Take care to prevent transfer from treated clothes to pets or aquariums.

Using permethrin effectively and safely

Here are some tips for maximizing the benefits of permethrin clothing while staying safe:

– Read and follow all label instructions for application. Don’t over-treat clothing.

– Apply outdoors in a well-ventilated area and avoid breathing spray.

– Allow treated clothing to fully dry before wearing.

– Wash clothing at least once before wearing as a precaution.

– Hand wash and line dry permethrin-treated clothes when possible.

– Limit use on children’s clothing until they are older.

– Be aware of any asthma or allergy symptoms during the first few wears.

– Re-apply permethrin after 6 weeks of regular use for continued protection.

The bottom line

Permethrin-treated clothing is very safe when label directions are followed correctly. The low toxicity, poor absorption, and quick breakdown make permethrin ideal for keeping bugs at bay without harming you. Just take care when spraying and allow full drying before use. For most people, wearing permethrin-treated clothes carries minimal risks and provides big benefits against insects.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does permethrin last on clothes?

Permethrin binds tightly to fabric fibers, resisting multiple washings. However, the insecticide breaks down over time and use. Typically, permethrin will last about 6 weeks or 6 washings before needing to be reapplied. Higher concentrations may last slightly longer.

Does permethrin wash out of clothes?

While some permethrin washes out over time, it is designed to strongly adhere to fabrics through laundering. Much of the insecticide remains in the clothing fibers and is still effective after machine washing. For best results, line dry permethrin-treated clothes when possible.

Is permethrin safe for babies?

Permethrin can be used on baby clothing but should be done with caution. Apply the lowest effective concentration and wash treated clothing before dressing your child. Also take care to prevent infants from touching still-wet, freshly treated fabrics. Permethrin use on babies is likely safe but still requires care.

Can you put permethrin on polyester?

Yes, permethrin adheres well and remains effective when applied to synthetic fibers like polyester. Permethrin binds strongly to polyester, nylon, and other synthetics, while having a slightly shorter duration on natural fibers like cotton. Follow the garment care instructions for your particular polyester item.

Does permethrin change clothes color?

No, permethrin does not typically cause any color change or bleaching when applied correctly to clothing and fabrics. Some people note a temporary “wet” look while the permethrin is drying. But once fully dry, permethrin does not alter fabric color or appearance. Always spot test an inconspicuous area first.

Can permethrin hurt dogs?

Dogs are susceptible to permethrin poisoning through large doses of the insecticide. However, minimal exposure from treated clothing is unlikely to harm dogs. Take reasonable care to prevent dogs from licking wet permethrin during application. Do not directly treat dog bedding or kennels with permethrin formulations.


Permethrin-treated clothing provides effective, long-lasting bug protection with minimal risks when used properly. While no chemical is 100% without hazards, permethrin is registered as safe by the EPA due to its low toxicity to humans and animals, poor absorption through skin, and rapid environmental breakdown. Take care when initially spraying clothing, allow full drying before wear, and follow all label instructions to maximize the benefits while minimizing any potential downsides. For most wearers, permethrin-embedded clothes are a smart, safe choice to prevent mosquito, tick, and insect bites during outdoor activities.