HOW OFTEN YOU wash your bath towels is a hot-button topic. Some swear by laundering their towels after every shower, while others will let them hang dry and use them a few times before throwing them in the wash.
“Based on the levels of microbes that can grow on towels, towels should be washed once a week, at the very least,” says microbiologist Jason Tetro, author of The Germ Code and The Germ Files and host of the Super Awesome Science Show podcast. After all, who wants to step out of a shower fresh and clean just to dry off with a bacteria-loaded towel?
“Studies looking into the microbial contamination of towels reveal they can grow into the hundreds of thousands and possibly millions within that time,” says Tetro. “This may be enough to transfer back to your skin and lead to either odor or possible infection.”
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Are Dirty Towels a Health Hazard?
While the majority of microbial types are not too worrisome, there are some that can cause infection. This includes Staphylococcus aureus and its antibiotic-resistant version, MRSA, Tetro points out.
Facial acne, body acne, and folliculitis (i.e. when hair follicles become infected or inflamed) can all be worsened, and, in some cases even caused, by dirty towels, according to Dr. Kristina Collins, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Austin Skin in Texas.
“Our bodies are covered with a robust microbiome of bacteria, yeast, and fungi,” she says. “As soon as we dry off with our towel, we transfer these microorganisms along with many sloughed dead skin cells to the surface of the towel.”
How Often Should I Wash My Bath Towels?
She recommends washing body towels and face towels at minimum after about three to four uses. If you are struggling with acne or eczema, try increasing the frequency of washing towels, pillowcases, sheets, or any other fabrics coming into contact with the skin regularly, she says.
Hand towels are often exposed to more yucky types of bacteria, like E.Coli from the GI tract, and should be washed every two days or so, Collins says.
How Do I Get My Bath Towels Truly Clean?
When it comes to laundering your towels, a common mistake people make is using too much detergent, which can cause residue to build up, lessening the absorbency of your towels, says Patric Richardson, the “Laundry Evangelist” and a textile care expert. If you’ve ever gotten a sour or mildewy whiff when you grab for your towel, an absorbency issue could be to blame because too much soapy residue prevents the towel from drying well, giving way to bacteria build up in the towel.
Richardson recommends using two tablespoons of detergent when you wash a full load of towels. Avoid using fabric softener and dryer sheets, because they can also reduce the absorbency of your towels, he says. Your towels should be fluffy and soft when they come out of the dryer, but if you like an added scent, use a wool dryer ball with a drop of lemongrass or bergamot essential oil, Richardson suggests.
Also, don’t use chlorine bleach on your white towels because the towels actually have a blue dye in them that helps them achieve that bright white color. Bleaching out the color is what makes your towels look dingy, Richardson says.
Where Should I Hang My Towels to Dry?
Also important is how you dry your towels after you use them. Collins recommends hanging damp towels on the inside door of a walk-in closet or on the outside part of the bathroom door with a hook or towel rack.
“The warmth and humidity inside the bathroom make bacteria, and especially yeast and fungi, very happy and they grow much faster,” she says. “Hanging the towel in a dry environment outside of the bathroom helps the fabric dry faster and reduces microorganism growth.”
How Do I Keep My Bath Mat Clean?
One more thing! Tetro also recommends washing your bath mat once a week. The best way to wash them is with hot water, Tetro says, but if the laundry instructions prevent you from doing so, go with a disinfectant containing hydrogen peroxide or non-bleaching agents like citric acid.
Damp and with a high surface area, they’re havens for microbial survival and growth, he says. In fact, studies from researchers in Japan and the UK have shown thousands of bacteria and fungi in the standard plush bathmat.
If this makes you shudder, maybe it’s time for a teak shower mat!
Brittany Anas is a former newspaper reporter (The Denver Post, Boulder Daily Camera) turned freelance writer. Before she struck out on her own, she covered just about every beat—from higher education to crime. Now she writes about food, cocktails, travel, and lifestyle topics for Men’s Journal, House Beautiful, Forbes, Simplemost, Shondaland, Livability, Hearst newspapers, TripSavvy and more. In her free time, she coaches basketball, crashes pools, and loves hanging out with her rude-but-adorable Boston Terrier that never got the memo the breed is nicknamed “America’s gentleman.”
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