How Often Should You Wash Kitchen Towels, Really?

You might be surprised to learn that some experts recommend washing your kitchen towels every day. But do you actually need to wash them that often?

Kitchen towels or dish rags are helpful to have on-hand because they’re an environmentally friendly cleaning tool that can take the place of single-use paper products. You can use them to tackle everyday tasks, like wiping down your counters, pulling hot dishes from the microwave, or drying off your hands. But if you’re using the same kitchen towel for a multitude of spills, you could easily be spreading bacteria across your hands and home surfaces.

Think about it: When was the last time you actually washed your kitchen towels? Have you ever used the same towel for a week or longer? If you can’t remember or the answer is yes, read on for the facts that’ll make sure you never forget to wash your kitchen towels again.

What Happens If You Don’t Wash Your Kitchen Towels

If you tend to wipe down kitchen counters night after night without washing them regularly in between, you could be contributing to the growth of harmful bacteria on your towels.

A 2018 study conducted at the University of Mauritius found that 49 percent of the kitchen towels tested after one month of use showed bacterial growth that contained the same pathogens that are responsible for causing food poisoning in adults and children.

In the same study, bacteria found on the kitchen towels increased according to the size of the family using them, the type of diet the family ate (meat vs. vegetarian), and how long the towels were used without washing them. The bacteria was found to be more present in families that ate non-vegetarian diets, therefore leading researchers to believe that many people may not be handling uncooked meat in a hygienic way.

Dishtowels hanging on ovens

Left: John Bessler; Right: ANTHONY MASTERSON PHOTOGRAPHY, INC. | Design: Better Homes & Gardens

How Often Kitchen Towels or Dish Rags Need to Be Washed

Kitchen towels can collect dirt and bacteria quickly, so how often should you be washing the dish rags you use? Well, it depends on a few things, including what you’re using them for. If you’re using kitchen towels to dry off freshly washed hands only, they can last a little longer. If you’re using them to clean up after cooking meat or fish, they should be tossed into the laundry immediately. Make sure to wash these towels in hot water, and throw them out or drop them off at a textile recycling center if they start to fray or tear.

Some experts even recommend washing towels daily or even after each single use. A 2015 study conducted at Kansas State University found that towels were the single-most contaminated item in the kitchen. Participants in the study were handling towels much more often than one might realize, as “many participants would touch the towel before washing their hands or used the towel after washing their hands inadequately,” the study found. “Even after properly washing their hands, they reused the towel and contaminated themselves all over again.”

The easiest way to combat bacterial build-up from such frequent use is to purchase a few dish towels. Replace them with new towels when necessary and collect the soiled ones in a bin until you’re ready to do laundry. Of course, you should always do what you think is best for you and your family, but these facts serve as a great reminder to run your kitchen towels through the wash a bit more often than you’re probably doing now. 

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  1. “Kitchen towels could contribute to the growth of potential pathogens that cause food poisoning.” American Society for Microbiology. EurekAlert, American Association for the Advancement of Science.

  2. “Consumer Food Handling Practices Lead to Cross-contamination.” Food Protection Trends, International Association for Food Protection.

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