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Repellent-Treated Clothing

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Factory-Treated Clothing to Repel Insects

The only insect repellent currently used for factory treatment of clothing is permethrin. Permethrin is a broad spectrum, non-systemic, synthetic pyrethroid insecticide that targets adults and larvae of many species of biting, chewing, scaling, soil, and flying invertebrates. Permethrin is registered by the EPA as an insecticide for use in a variety of settings. When used to pre-treat clothing, it is an insect repellent.

Permethrin has been registered since 1979. It was first registered in 1990 for use as a repellent on clothing by the military. At about the same time, we also approved permethrin as a spray for use on clothing and gear by consumers, as well as for commercial factory treatment of clothing and various types of gear. In 2003, we first registered consumer-oriented, permethrin factory-treated clothing products. More products have been approved since then.

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Safety of Permethrin in Factory-Treated Clothing

When evaluating these products in the pesticide registration process, we follow normal risk assessment procedures to determine safety. Our 2009 revised exposure and risk assessment evaluated multiple exposure scenarios for permethrin factory-treated clothing, including toddlers wearing or mouthing the clothing, and military personnel who wear permethrin-treated uniforms on a daily basis. All exposure scenarios showed that permethrin factory-treated clothing is unlikely to pose any significant immediate or long-term hazard to people wearing the clothing.

The amount of permethrin allowed in clothing is very low, and scientific studies indicate that human exposure resulting from wearing permethrin factory-treated clothing also is low. Available data show that permethrin is poorly absorbed through the skin.

Women Who are Pregnant or Nursing

Based on our review of scientific studies, there is no evidence of reproductive or developmental effects to mother or child following exposure to permethrin.

Safe Use: Follow the Label

Clothing factory-treated with permethrin is considered a pesticide product, and as with any pesticide product, it must be marketed with a pesticide use label. The pesticide use label on such clothing is in the form of a "hang-tag,” which is typically attached to the outside of the clothing.  As with any pesticide product, consumers must follow the directions and precautions on the "hang-tag" label that accompanies this clothing. 

Use of Factory-Treated Clothing in Conjunction with Insect Repellents

When wearing permethrin factory-treated clothing to repel insects, only the skin surface covered with the factory-treated clothing is protected from the pests listed on the label. Treat other exposed parts of the body with an insect repellent labeled for use on human skin for more complete protection.

Why the Label Calls for Washing Clothes Separately

Small amounts of permethrin can come off in the wash, as shown by available scientific studies. Only outer clothing is treated with permethrin, as outer clothing is most likely to come into direct contact with the listed pests. Permethrin repellent products used for factory-treatment of clothing or as spray-ons for clothing are not to be applied to certain clothing such as underwear. For this reason, the label instructs consumers to wash permethrin-treated clothing separately from non-treated clothing.

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Effectiveness of Factory-Treated Clothing

We require manufacturers of all pesticides to provide data demonstrating that the product will work to control pests as claimed on the label. In the case of pests of public health concern, such as mosquitoes and ticks, the manufacturer must submit these efficacy studies for review and approval by EPA. We have reviewed these data for permethrin factory-treated clothing and found that the clothing is effective in repelling target pests.

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Meaning of EPA Registration and Status of Permethrin

Federal law requires that before selling or distributing a pesticide in the United States, a person or company must obtain a registration, or license, from EPA. Before registering a new pesticide or new use for a registered pesticide, we must first ensure that the pesticide, when used according to label directions, meets the safety standard set by law. 

In evaluating pesticides for registration, we require the manufacturers to provide a variety of studies on the health and environmental effects of each chemical and product. We use these studies to decide whether a product and its intended uses meet our safety standard and whether specific use restrictions are warranted for the safe use of the product. As part of the review and risk assessment process, we consider individuals of varying ages who could be exposed to a pesticide under different use scenarios.

We periodically reevaluate all registered pesticides to ensure continued compliance with current scientific and safety standards.

  • We completed the most recent comprehensive human health risk assessment for all registered uses of permethrin in February 2006 in support of the pesticide’s reregistration.
  • In revising this assessment in April 2009, we evaluated several factory-treated clothing exposure scenarios including short-term and long-term cancer risks to adults, youth, and toddlers wearing permethrin-treated clothing. We also evaluated toddler object-to-mouth activity on factory-treated clothing.  All scenarios resulted in risk estimates below our level of concern.
  • In June 2011, we initiated a new review of all permethrin uses, called registration review, opening docket EPA-HQ-OPP-2011-0039.  We expect to complete the registration review of permethrin in 2017.

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Treating Your Own Clothing

We also register products that consumers can spray on clothing to repel mosquitoes and ticks. The products that are currently available contain DEET,  permethrin or picaridin. Be sure to read and follow label directions if you use one of these products.

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For More Information

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