Damp, warm, and absorbent: the perfect combination for bacteria to lurk and grow – and exactly the kind of environment that each of your bathroom towels provides. Gross to think about, right?
A common mistake that many people make is thinking that it’s okay to let household items like towels and sheets go too long between washes.
What’s at Risk?
Every time you dry off from the shower, or crawl into your bed at night and get cozy under the sheets, your skin is losing millions of skin cells and microscopic bacteria onto the towels and bedding.
Don’t freak out! This is a totally normal phenomenon that your body is equipped to handle.
Most of these germs and bacteria won’t have any effect on you. TIME magazine quotes Emily Martin, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, stating: “Our bodies are adapted to being able to live in this environment with all of these microbes around.”
However, when sharing towels and sheets with others, your body is exposed to tons of bacteria that is not your own (and that’s when the trouble arises).
Bathrooms are host to many dangerous types of bacteria. Hand towels may carry fecal organisms like coliform bacteria, Escherichia coli or Salmonella.
According to one study by Charles Gerba, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona, all three of these microorganisms are found present on kitchen hand towels; and the amount of bacteria present, directly correlated with the frequency of washing.
Sheets are another culprit that can get you sick, if left too long between washing — as many of us are guilty of. Last year, British bed retailer Time4Sleep conducted a survey, which revealed that one in four of us wait as long as one month to wash our bedding! On average you spend 8 hours a day in your bed… and on average, individuals wait at least 30 days between washing. That’s 240 hours of time that your sheets and pillow cases are absorbing sweat, bacteria, and skin cells — YUCK!
Studies have shown that an alarming amount of bacteroides can start to grow in just seven days, including those linked to pneumonia, gonorrhea, and appendicitis.
How Often Should You Wash?
In order to combat the spread of bacteria, experts suggest that hand towels should be changed and washed every two days. This helps to avoid the damp, wet conditions that bacteria love.
Another tip is to ensure the towel is hung up after using and allowed to dry between uses. If you are reusing a bath towel, make sure to hang it, to ensure it does not remain damp. Do not share with anyone. Avoid exposure to someone else’s microbes that your body isn’t accustomed to, and don’t use the same towel more than three times before washing.
When it comes to sheets, experts suggest that you change sheets at least every two weeks. But, ideally each week is best practice (to be safe).
Not only will you enjoy crawling into bed with the fresh scent of linens, your body will thank you for not being exposed to the many potential bacteria lurking under the covers.
I recommend that you wash towels and sheets separately from other items, and use water at a high temperature of 140 degrees Fahrenheit. This high heat will ensure that possible contaminants are eliminated.
Avoid using fabric softeners when washing sheets and towels. These types of detergents affect absorbency because they leave residue on the fabric.
Once washed, cotton towels should be tumble-dried for at least 45 minutes to ensure they are fully dry and so that bacteria will not continue to multiply in the damp recesses of the wet towels.
Using detergents that are free of toxins is another great path toward overall wellness within your household. Many people don’t realize that normal detergents transfer chemicals and toxins onto your skin — which is then absorbed, as well as inhaled by your lungs.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “1,4 dioxane which is found in typical household cleaners is considered likely to be carcinogenic to humans,” and according to the Association of Occupational & Environmental Clinics, “surfactants are found to disrupt your body’s natural hormone function.”
Using harmful detergents can cause adverse reactions such as acne, rashes, and endocrine disruption (which can lead to even more serious illness).
Not only is regularly washing your linen important to your overall well-being, making sure the types of detergents you are using to wash them is equally as important to ensure that you have a safe and healthy home!