Perfectly chosen, color coordinated towels and cloths can bring a room alive – namely our kitchens and bathrooms. What’s worse though, is that they are probably keeping millions of creepy bacteria alive too. They love warm, damp places that can keep them alive. We wipe, we dry, we wipe again, and we dry again. Rinse, repeat, maybe rinse again, but definitely repeat. Have you ever wondered what lurks in between the tightly woven fibers of your towels and washcloths? Think about what they touch during those periods of use, and how often you wash them. Could it be scabies, E-coli, salmonella, or staphylococcus? Maybe a shiver just ran up your spine. Or maybe you just shrugged and said “Meh.” Though what doesn’t sicken you can make you stronger, it is still a good idea to use some guidelines for washing your linens to keep the germs at bay.


Kitchen Rags and Towels

The now oft-cited University of Arizona study that examined food borne illness and contamination found that dish towels are harbingers of doom. The worst! Kitchen towels and rags cross paths with dirty counters, spilled liquids, raw meats, and hands. They can be conduits for bacteria and other contaminants jumping from source to source and cycling back around again.

The fix? Old schoolers prefer to toss used dish towels and rags in the washer each night, and run them through the dryer in the morning. Other suggestions include soaking them in dish water with a shot of bleach in it for up to 10 minutes and hanging them to dry, or washing them separately from your other laundry. Another option? Use paper towels to dry hands and wipe up messes, or designated sponges for washing dishes.

Stack of bright kitchen towels.Stock photo via

Bath and Hand Towels

One of the common problems with towels is that they don’t dry enough, hatching a breeding ground for the organisms that cause musty odors, illness, or infection. With bath towels, hang them up separately with enough ventilation to air out completely. Switch them out every 3-4 days and launder them using the hot water setting. Bacteria can cling to detergent buildup, so adding a cup of vinegar to the load can help kill germs and eliminate odors. Use bleach in the water to help disinfect the laundry.

Hand towels that are frequently used in your bathroom should either be changed and washed daily, or replaced with paper towels. Multiple uses each day just redeposit daily or weekly accumulations of who-knows-what, especially if you live with others or have guests.

Basket of decorative bath towels.

Washcloths and Face Towels

We all know that washcloths do the job that no other linen wants, scrubbing dead skin cells and other um, things, from our bodies. Ideally, they should be changed every day. In this case, moisture is your enemy and the germs’ best friend, and rubbing a used rag on your skin each time is not keepin’ it clean.

Microbes on face towels can cause acne or other infections if you use them multiple times a day for more than a pat-dry. Change them after about 3-4 days if used often. Keeping them in a dry, well ventilated area in between uses also deters germ warfare.

Some of these basics can also be applied to your sheets and kid messes. For you laundry rebels out there that want to keep your linen washing habits as is, no matter how infrequent they are, we won’t judge. Other ways to stave off germs are to purchase bamboo towels, which are touted for being antibacterial and odor-free or using disposable wipes. Also, disinfect your washing machine at regular intervals to get rid of wee bugs that may be clinging to life in its well. We’re sure you’ll manage just fine!

How about your linen washing routine? Do you have any special regimens? Tell us in the comments.