How Often To Wash + Change Your Towels

How Often To Wash + Change Your Towels

Moisture, warmth, and humidity are the perfect breeding grounds for bacteria. Your towels can be the perfect spot for this. The very reason anything warm and damp in your house should be dried out, cleaned and often replaced, is the very reason we are getting down to how many days exactly you should be using your bath, hand and kitchen towels, before you send them for a good wash [details below].

“The longer towels stay damp, the longer the yeasts, bacteria, molds, and viruses remain alive and stay active,” explains dermatologist Alok Vij, MD.
— Dermatologist, Alok Vij, MD, Cleveland Clinic

How Often To Wash + Why?

Bath towels + Hand towels

While we use these towels to cleanse ourselves, they are also the perfect breeding ground for bacteria, with the warm and moist nature of them and any dirt in the air, body oils or sweat. Allowing the bacteria to develop on there means we are reintroducing them to our bodies as we wipe [sometimes scratch the surface of our skin] away.

Here are some basic/necessary codes of practice:

  • Wash every three to four uses.

    • No this is not excessive, washing it every day is a tad excessive ;)

  • Dry immediately after use.

    • Open them, so they are not folded or gathered, to air dry right after use.

  • Throw ones that are left on the floor, in the wash.

“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.”
— Dr. Gerba, Microbiologist, Time Magazine

face towels

The skin on your face and neck and delicate and prone to all kinds of pollutants and bacteria. A significant part of skin care is maintaining well-groomed skin and therefore wiping away dirt. We highly recommend using muslin face clothes, but whatever you use:

  • Wash after every use

    • Would be redundant to reintroduce the dirt or bacteria onto your face.

kitchen towels

Depending on your kitchen traffic these may need to be thrown into the hamper sooner than later. Kitchen towels are however used for holding pots, wiping surfaces, and wiping dishes [this should definitely be a different towel than the one used for surfaces/food/pots]. This means they get all kinds of elements on them, and definitely get damp, so can breed all kinds of bacteria. A recent study confirms this too.

  • Frequent kitchen traffic: Throw in the wash end of every day/night.

  • Infrequent kitchen traffic: Throw in the wash every couple of days.

Photo: Vitalik Radko

Photo: Vitalik Radko

“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
— Philip Tierno, PhD, clinical professor of pathology and microbiology at NYU School of Medicine, Reader’s Digest:

How To Wash Them

How you wash them is simple, but most people add too many steps or skip some major quality control checks, which might be harming the process more than actually helping it, or getting it right.

regular use

  • Wash them separately to other laundry items.

  • Don’t wash too many towels together [prevents water from passing through them].

  • Don’t let them pile up in the hamper too long. [the dark, damp environment there will be the perfect breeding ground].

  • Dry them thoroughly.

  • Ensure your actual washing machine doesn't have any gunk, and maintain general cleanliness of it to ensure it’s not transferring onto your towels and clothes.

    • Every now and then, run it [with nothing inside, on an extra hot load] with some vinegar and baking soda, and wipe out and disinfect [witch hazel, vinegar, all purpose disinfecting cleaners] the inner rubber frame. If you’ve never looked in there, take a look, you’ll definitely want to wipe it down ;)

  • They should not have a funky smell after a wash, or first use after a wash.

    • If this happens, throw into the wash with some baking soda or vinegar added to the wash cycle.

  • Do not use a softener.

    • This reduces the absorbency of the towels.

    • Leaves more deposits [aka stuff] onto the towel that will really just transfer to your skin.

more soap does not equal cleaner

With towels more soap means more soap deposits that might not wash off and just add to the breeding environment.

  • Just a small amount of soap is great.

  • Do not double up on soap quantity if your towel load is heavier or dirtier.

  • If you need to add a boost, add a vinegar, baking soda, or a natural oxy booster.

if you have the flu

  • Definitely disinfect any hand towels and bath towels that you might’ve used while you have the flu or similar.

  • Disinfect with a cup of vinegar in the wash load.

“They can cause an outbreak of toenail fungus, athlete’s foot, jock itch, and warts, or cause these skin conditions to spread. And dirty towels can certainly cause a flare-up of eczema or atopic dermatitis.”
— Alok Vij, MD, Cleveland Clinic

When To Change Them Out

Generally speaking, when the towel wears out. Especially if you feel like it has lost its absorbency. You can reuse these as cleaning rags, or donate them to local shelters or material recycling programs in your city.

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Dry Brushing

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