You know how it goes — it's been a minute since you did a load of laundry, so you roam the house scooping up soiled clothes. When you happen upon the moist dish rags in the sink and the cleaning cloths you recently used to wipe down the counters, you toss those in, too. Hey, we've all done it. But is it even OK to wash your cleaning supplies and clothes together?
The question, of course, isn't whether you can. It's whether you should. I mean, is it even sanitary to toss those old cleaning rags into the wash with your shirts and socks? Well, we decided to find out… and, let's be honest, deep down you probably already know the answer.
According to hygiene expert Dr. Lisa Ackerley, the trend toward washing clothes in cooler water and with more delicate cycles (to avoid damage or shrinkage) lends itself to the spread of bacteria. "Consumers believe that normal laundering produces 'clean' clothes, but this does not necessarily translate to 'hygienically' clean."
Referring to this as the "Sick Laundry Cycle," Ackerley insists it's high time we re-evaluate the way we clean our laundry. "If you put something ridden with bacteria in the washing machine, you will simply be swishing the germs around — creating a 'bacterial soup' — unless you do something to kill them," she explained.
And here's the ugly truth: it isn't just those dirty old dish rags that can cause unwanted bacterial contamination. Undergarments can be home to around 100 million E. coli and other bacteria, which is just as unsanitary as it sounds.
"If you put something ridden with bacteria in the washing machine, you will simply be swishing the germs around — creating a 'bacterial soup' — unless you do something to kill them."
So what's a person in desperate need of clean laundry to do?
Woman's Day magazine recommends sorting laundry by use, washing food-related items like your tea towels and cleaning cloths into a separate load than undergarments and other clothing. Another plus side to washing cleaning items separately is that you don't run the risk of cleaning chemicals leaching out and ruining your clothes.
Regardless of whether you wash your cleaning items separately or with your regular clothes, though, you should always wash any load with high-risk items (think underwear and dish cloths) on hot. You should then follow that up by drying them thoroughly. "Most people wash all of their laundry in cold or lukewarm water, which only removes and kills about 80 percent of bacteria," Dr. Charles Gerba, a professor of microbiology at the University of Arizona in Tucson, told Woman's Day.
Additionally, kitchen towels should always be washed on a regular or heavy duty cycle to ensure they get thoroughly clean. Yes, even if the label on your fancy tea towels says to wash them on gentle! If you use them for any food-related purpose, they'll need a more rigorous cycle to avoid creating "bacterial soup" in your washing machine.