Is it Okay to Use the Same Rags to Clean the Whole House?

published Mar 15, 2018
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(Image credit: Aimée Mazzenga)

When it comes to keeping cleaning cloths straight, you already know some of what not to do. Any of us would be aghast at the thought of taking a rag straight from cleaning the toilet to the kitchen counter. But what about something like cleaning the kitchen counter and the kitchen table with the same cloth? And what about the rags after they’ve been washed?

If you’ve made the switch from disposable cleaning cloths (like paper towels and wipes) to rags that you wash and use repeatedly, you have to consider the bacteria and viruses that will lodge themselves in your rags and potentially multiply and be spread around.

The answer is: Yes, it’s ok to use the same rags all over the house, as long as you defend yourself against cross-contamination.

Here’s how to do it:

1. Change your rags frequently

There’s no perfect one-size-fits-all answer for how frequently you should be rotating clean rags and towels in and out, but a good rule of thumb is to grab a fresh rag for each new cleaning task, and a fresh one each day (or at least every other day) for normal use in the kitchen.

But above all else: Trust your nose! If your cloths are damp and smelly, that should tell you germs are multiplying, and it’s time to throw it in the wash.

2. Make sure they’re fully sanitized when you wash

You can use rags from any room, as long as you’re sure they’re getting totally clean. Here are a few ways to make sure your rags get sanitized every time:

  • Use bleach.
  • Make sure your washer hits temperatures between 140 and 150 degrees. Most washers don’t, but to find out if yours does, check your manual.
  • Boil your rags. If you can’t or don’t want to use bleach and your washing machine doesn’t get hot enough to kill germs, you can boil your rags in a large stock pot.
  • Hang your rags to dry in the sun. While this isn’t always feasible due to weather, space, or time constraints, ultraviolet light does kill microbes, which makes sunlight a disinfectant.

When properly sanitized, there’s no reason not to use the same rags throughout your home. However, some people prefer to keep separate rags for various uses. For instance, I have rags that I only use in the kitchen, and these are a different color than my all-purpose rags. This is less for actual cleanliness reasons and more for just the peace of mind of knowing that my kitchen rags are only used in the kitchen. But I wash all my rags together on the sanitary cycle of my machine, so I know that germs are killed (and, moreover, that they aren’t being left in my washer to get re-deposited on my other laundry).

Interested in learning more about your washing machine? Here’s a guide to what your washer cycles and settings really mean.