Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral that has significant fire-resistance properties. Because of this fire-resistance, asbestos was once a common building material, added to everything, including cement, building paper, drywall, tiles and insulation. You can wash asbestos out of clothes fairly easily, but doing so can be dangerous and even deadly.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s asbestos was banned in several countries due to reports of the substance causing lung cancer. In the United States, asbestos was banned in 1989. Countries like Canada have also banned the use of asbestos in their own buildings, but mine and export it to other countries that still use it. Asbestos may be more common depending on where you live.
While banned and no longer used, asbestos is still present in many older buildings, and many workers come into contact with it. Examples of such jobs include construction workers, plumbers, contractors, asbestos miners and maintenance workers, as well as any job that puts the worker in close contact with asbestos materials. Asbestos can pull apart, and its fibers can float around in the air, landing on clothes.
The Atlantic County Division of Public Health recommends first taking clothes off outside and rinsing them off outside with a garden hose if possible, to remove any excess asbestos and prevent contamination of your home. The clothing can then go into a washing machine like normal.
Coming into contact with asbestos at all can be dangerous, but so can washing clothes covered in asbestos. In the United States, lawsuits have been filed against employers who exposed workers to asbestos. In two separate cases the son of a worker and the wife of another worker had contracted lung cancer after washing asbestos-covered clothing for years.