Yes, kitchen towels are fabric Petri dishes. Multiple studies reported kitchen towels routinely test positive for Escherichia coli (E. coli), Enterococcus, Staphylococcus aureus (Staph), and other bacteria that can make you and your family sick.
This probably isn’t news to you. Bacteria thrives in warm and damp environments, which pretty much sums up a kitchen towel’s existence. Before you get upset and swear off kitchen towels, the real problem is how WE use them.
COMMON KITCHEN TOWEL FAUX PAS
We treat our kitchen towels like the Swiss Army Knife of the kitchen leading to cross-contamination. Your kitchen towel should have a single function. If you are drying dishes, do not use the same towel to dry your hands, wipe up kitchen messes, or wipe off dirty dishes. Have a towel dedicated to each function in your kitchen.
Where does the kitchen towel hang out? Is it wadded up in a ball on the kitchen counter waiting for its next job? Or maybe, it is hanging out near or in the kitchen sink. Moist and humid areas drastically increase the growth of illness-causing pathogens. When not in use, the kitchen towel should be hung on a hook or towel bar to promote drying between each use.
How long has it been since you washed your kitchen towel? Odds are, it’s been way too long. Ideally, kitchen towels are washed after every use. For most households, that is not realistic. Kitchen towels should be washed at least once a week, every few days is even better.
NOT ALL LAUNDRY CYCLES ARE CREATED EQUAL
Properly washing kitchen towels is crucial for eliminating inevitable germs. Most people get “properly” wrong. Here are some recommendations to adequately wash kitchen towels and minimize the risk of cross-contamination and illness.
- Allow kitchen towels to dry completely before tossing them in the laundry basket. Damp towels tossed in with clothes or other towels that won’t be washed on hot, can transfer bacteria. Preferably, dirty kitchen towels are stored separately from the rest of the dirty laundry.
- Separate wash loads for kitchen towels. Do not wash kitchen towels with bath towels and clothing. Even if reasonable precautions have been taken, there is a high probability that dirty kitchen towels contain bacteria. Bacteria can spread in the washing machine. It’s best to be cautious and do an extra load on laundry day.
- Wash towels with hot water and heavy soil mode. Warm or cold water and the regular cycle is not enough to kill tough illness-causing bacteria lurking on kitchen towels. For maximum results, the wash cycle is hot water and a minimum of 40 minutes.
- Never leave wet towels in the washing machine overnight. It does not take long for bacteria to grow in warm, damp environments. Immediately remove freshly washed towels from the washing machine and toss them into the dryer on high heat as well.
- Refrain from using fabric softener. Fabric softeners, especially liquid, leave a filmy coating on the laundry’s surface. The coating interferes with a thorough cleaning. This isn’t as big of an issue with clothing and other items. For laundry with a high-risk of bacteria, it’s best to skip the fabric softener.
Kitchen towels are made from a wide variety of materials. The most popular varieties are linen, cotton, terrycloth, and microfiber. Selecting the best material for kitchen towels is a balancing act of function, effectiveness, and safety.
Linen Towels – Linen towels are made of soft fibers which are great for drying delicate dishes without scratching, leaving lint behind, and are more absorbent than cotton towels.
Terrycloth Towels - Terrycloth is the “quicker picker-upper” of the kitchen towel family. The loops are tightly sewn together and provide the best absorbency. Terrycloth also retains moisture like a champ. Terrycloth needs several washings to eliminate lint. It’s best to use terrycloth of non-food cleanups.
Cotton Towels – Cotton is one of the most durable best kitchen towels for cleaning. Cotton towels are soft, absorbent, and hold up well after repeated uses and wash cycles. Depending on the weave, cotton can be more prone to leaving lint. Soft cotton prevents watermarks and smudges. Cotton towels make great kitchen cleaning towels.
Microfiber Towels – Microfiber is created from synthetic materials such as polyester, nylon, or polyamide. Microfiber towels enthusiasts love their functionality and versatility. Microfiber towels have superior cleaning capability. Studies have shown microfiber is 98.9% effective in removing bacteria. Microfiber towels are more environmentally friendly. They require much l water and are extremely durable and can be washed up to 500 times without losing their effectiveness. A microfiber towel can absorb more than seven times their weight. Because microfiber towels have hundreds of thousands of fibers, they have a superior ability to trap dirt, liquid, bacteria and leave a lint-free completely clean surface behind.
Preventing Gross Kitchen Towels
Maybe kitchen towels are getting an unfair germy rap. When used properly, kitchen towels are essential for keeping your kitchen clean and safe. Here’s a recap of how to banish illness-causing bacteria from your kitchen once and for all:
- One towel per function in the kitchen
- Hang towels on a hook or towel to properly dry between jobs
- Wash towels frequently, preferably after every use
- Allow towels to dry completely before placing them in the laundry basket
- Keep dirty towels separate from other loads of laundry
- Wash towels for at least 40 minutes in hot water (check labels on microfiber towels)
- Never leave wet towels in the washing machine
- Don’t use fabric softener on white kitchen towels
- Pick the correct fabric for specific kitchen duties
- If you haven’t tried highly effective microfiber, check it out!