Germs on kitchen towels could give your family food poisoning. See what experts say about how often you should be washing your trusty dish towels.

By Hannah Bruneman
June 13, 2018
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Don’t give yourself a pat on the back quite yet for washing your kitchen towel once a week. A recent study from the University of Mauritius revealed that you should be washing or replacing your kitchen towel every. single. day.

Yes—every day. Researchers found that 49 out of 100 collected kitchen towels displayed some form of bacterial growth. The towels in the study were each used for one month by various family types and sizes. The towels were used either for multipurpose or single jobs to account for different cleaning habits.

The study was presented at this year's American Society for Microbiology meeting, where scientists explained the presence of coliforms, Enterococcus spp, and S. aureus on common kitchen towels. These types of bacteria can sometimes be harmless, but they can also cause illness such as food poisoning. E. coli, which is notorious for contaminating groceries, is a type of coliform that can be easily spread around your kitchen from your dirty dish towel.

Bacteria was most commonly found in towels belonging to larger families—especially those with children. If you have small children, you might want to think twice about hanging your kitchen towel from a base cabinet or oven handle, which could be a health hazard for little ones who put anything within reach into their mouths.

Researchers also found a higher amount of bacteria on towels that were used for multiple tasks, such as wiping down surfaces and drying hands. The more roles a towel had, the more risk of cross-contamination. The next time you're baking, reconsider drying clean hands on the rag you use to wipe up spills and splatters. Humidity is also a factor, with humid towels collecting a higher bacterial count than dry towels.

In an email to CBS News, Philip Tierno Jr., PhD, clinical professor of Microbiology and Pathology at NYU School of Medicine, advised washing or swapping out kitchen towels daily, if not more.

“They should be machine washed in hot water with soap and bleach if white, or, if colored, use a peroxide-containing soap made for sanitizing colored clothes,” Tierno said.  “Many washing machines and dryers have a germicidal cycle, which is useful if possessed. While they should be changed daily, when knowingly contaminated by food or meat drippings, change them out for a new towel immediately."

But don’t worry about your water bill surging due to once-a-day laundry loads. Instead of washing the same towel every day, simply switch out your dish towel each night. Having seven towels ready at the beginning of the week will be enough to last you until your next planned laundry day. This simple change in your kitchen routine will help keep harmful bacteria away from your family.

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