On National Laundry Day (April 15, if you’re curious), GE conducted a poll about the public’s laundry habits. Pertaining to bath towels, “50% of those polled live by the philosophy that ‘I’m clean when I use it’ because they all admit to using their bath towel at least five times before throwing it in the washer. An additional 14 percent use their bath towels more than eight times before it hits the laundry basket.”
If washing your towels once a week is a “dirty little secret,” well, I have one too. (Monday is towel-washing day at my house.) So how often are we supposed to be washing our towels?
The main reason towels need to be washed frequently is that they provide a moist, dark, damp, and porous environment—an ideal growing ground for bacteria. Even when only used for just a few days, many towels test positive for microbes such as mold, yeast, and E. coli. Per one microbiologist, Dr. Gerba, quoted in Time: “After about two days, if you dry your face on a hand towel, you’re probably getting more E. coli on your face than if you stuck your head in a toilet and flushed it.”
Plus, there’s the undeniable and oh-so-scientific ick factor. As microbiologist Philip Tierno, PhD, clinical professor of pathology and microbiology at NYU School of Medicine, told Reader’s Digest:
“You may not get sick after using a towel for two weeks, but that’s not the point. Would you put on dirty underwear (unless there’s an emergency) after you’ve taken a clean bath? It’s very similar to what you’re doing after the first couple of drying episodes.”
So back to our question of how often we should be washing our bath towels. The microbiologists take? Both Dr. Tierno and Dr. Gerba recommend washing them every two to three days. The American Cleaning Institute gives a little more leeway, recommending towels be washed after three or four “normal uses,” allowed to fully dry before they are used again. ACI also adds this maybe-obvious piece of advice, but worth heeding if you don’t already: “If the towel contains body fluids (perspiration, blood, etc.) it should be washed after each use.”
When laundry day rolls around and you need to get your towels as clean as possible in the wash, use the hottest water you can (the sanitize cycle, if you have one) and run the dryer for at least 45 minutes.
I’m off to throw our towels in the wash. How about you?