How bad is it to not wash your bath towels every week?

Your bath towel is hiding a dirty little secret—a weekly wash isn’t enough to keep it clean. Your sheets might be hiding the same secret since this is how bad it is not to wash your sheets every week.

Bacteria multiplies on towels

You only use your towel after scrubbing off in the shower, so it can’t get all that dirty, right? Not so fast. “When you say you wash off bacteria, you’re partially correct—you wash off some bacteria,” says Philip Tierno, PhD, clinical professor of pathology and microbiology at NYU School of Medicine. But others will stick around, and they get on your towel during your post-shower rubdown.

Once those bacteria are on there, they’ll start to multiply. “It keeps building up as you use the towel again day after day,” says Chuck Gerba, PhD, a microbiology professor at the University of Arizona. A study led by Dr. Gerba found that used hand towels have 1,000 times more coliform bacteria than newly bought ones. Bacteria love dark, moist environments, so they’ll thrive in a steamy bathroom with the door closed. Towels are one of the top germiest spots in your bathroom—and your toilet isn’t number one.

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18 things in your home that are covered with germs
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18 things in your home that are covered with germs

Sink: It’s where all your kitchen dirt goes (we hope). In fact, it’s home to as many as 500,000 bacteria per square inch. Spray it down often, clean out your food trap, and scrub with scouring powder like Bon Ami at least once a week.

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Cutting boards: Whether you’re chopping meat, veggies or fruit, your cutting board could be Ground Zero for foodborne illness. Prevent cross-contamination by dedicating one board to meats and another to produce. And always wash your board ASAP after using it—especially if you were working with raw meat. Researchers at UC Davis also recommend plastic cutting boards over wood, because they’re easiest to sanitize—they can go in the dishwasher. Clean a wooden cutting board with soap and warm water, dry it quickly, and seal it with butcher-block oil whenever you notice the wood is drying out.

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Countertops: All the action—chopping, mixing, drink-pouring—happens here, so of course they’re covered with little particles of everything. First off, cut the clutter to give crumbs and germs fewer places to hide. Then wipe them with a damp microfiber cloth after every meal.

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Fridge shelves and drawers: Your refrigerator is home to both raw and cooked foods, and if it’s disorganized, they probably come in contact now and then. Store raw meat in a plastic bag to serve as an extra barrier, and stop spoiled food from turning into science experiments by throwing it away as soon as you notice it. Another cool trick we use at our house: Empty and wipe down the shelves and drawers whenever you do a big grocery shop.

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Sponges: They’ve been banned from commercial kitchens—ban them from yours, too. But if you must use a sponge, rinse it with hot water after every swipe. At the end of every day, get it wet and nuke it in the microwave for a minute. Toss it after a few weeks (one week if you’re missing the daily sanitizing routine).

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Dish towels: If you rush through washing your hands, some germs may still be hanging out on them and you’ll transfer those germs to the dish towel. Change dish towels a few times a week, and wash them with hot water when you do the laundry.

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Makeup brushes: They touch your face every day, coming in contact with oils, bacteria and dead skin cells. Wash them with mild soap whenever you notice makeup buildup.

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Towels: Like dish towels, they pick up any germs left after a shower. Plus, if your bathroom has poor air circulation, towels may get musty if they stay damp too long. Wash them in hot water at least once a week.

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Tub: The equivalent of the kitchen sink for your bod, the tub takes in a lot of grime. Wipe it down with a microfiber cloth every day and get rid of mold spots with baking soda or vinegar. (Find dozens more ways to clean with baking soda here.)

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​​​Floor around the toilet: It gets splashed, plain and simple. For starters, make sure to put the lid down every time you flush. Clean up noticeable spots right away and scrub with bathroom cleaner at least once a week.

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Faucet handles: You touch these before your hands are clean. ‘Nuff said. Wipe them down with a damp microfiber cloth.

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Toothbrush holder: It’s all about gravity: Many of the germs on your toothbrush drip into the holder. Rinse it out daily—do double-duty while you’re brushing your teeth with the other hand. Then sanitize your toothbrush holder in the dishwasher (if it can take it) or give it a good scrub with soap and water.

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Electronics: Smartphones, keyboards, mice, the remote control (OK, let’s be real: 17 remote controls)—germy fingers come in contact with them all the time. In fact, the National Institutes of Health recently found that cellphones are 10 times dirtier than toilet seats. Wipe them with a damp microfiber cloth as often as possible. Don’t forget to remove any cases so you can clean underneath.

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Doorknobs, handles and light switches: Even if your hand only touches these items for a fraction of a second, that’s enough time to transfer bacteria. Once again, a quick wipe-down with a damp microfiber cloth will do.

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Shoe rack: Footwear is a huge culprit for bringing germs into your home, so it’s no surprise that their storage unit is a bacterial breeding ground. Put some elbow grease into cleaning this one and wipe it with bathroom cleaner—you never know what somebody stepped in.

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Carpets and rugs: Even if you’re using the no-shoes rule, carpets suck up every crumb, dead skin cell and germ that hits them. Vacuum weekly and spritz high-traffic areas with a carpet sanitizer. If you can toss rugs into the laundry, do it.

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Bags: Your purse holds money (super dirty!) and your kid’s lunch bag holds food (raise your hand if you ever forget to clean it out over the weekend). Follow the manufacturer’s instructions on cleaning these to keep them in the best shape.

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Toys: No matter whose toys they are—your kid’s or the dog’s—they probably spend a lot of time in somebody’s mouth. Consider what they’re made of, then clean accordingly, tossing them in the laundry, dishwasher, or wiping with a cloth.

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The worst case scenarios are infection and acne

Rubbing down with a dirty towel, and you could be at risk for infection. “When you use a towel vigorously, you scratch your skin,” says Dr. Gerba. Those tiny breaks in your skin—which are too small to notice—give bacteria an entryway to get in your body.

Still, it’s “extremely unusual” to actually pick up a disease from your bath towel, says infectious disease specialist Aaron Glatt, MD, FACP, FIDSA, FSHEA, spokesperson for the Infectious Diseases Society of America and chairman of medicine and hospital epidemiologist at South Nassau Communities Hospital. Your own germs won’t make you sick, but you increase your chance of picking up a disease when you share towels, says Dr. Gerba. It’s one of the 12 things you’re sharing that germ experts wouldn’t.

If you’re acne-prone, you might want to wash your towel every time you use it, says Dr. Tierno. As you rub your skin—especially open pustules—with a dirty towel, bacteria could get on your skin and give you zits.

Here’s how to keep your towels as clean as possible

Even if you don’t let anyone else touch your towel, Dr. Gerba and Dr. Tierno recommend washing bath towels every two or three days. Hold out longer than that, and all those microorganisms will make your towel grungy. “You may not get sick after using a towel for two weeks, but that’s not the point,” says Dr. Tierno. “Would you put on dirty underwear (unless there’s an emergency) after you’ve taken a clean bath? It’s very similar to what you’re doing after the first couple of drying episodes.” While you’re at it, don’t forget to wash these other items you don’t clean enough.

Between washes, cut down bacteria growth by letting your towel air-dry fully, says Dr. Tierno. Instead of folding it, drape open on the rod. The more surface area is open to the air, the better it will dry. If you have a heated towel rack that speeds up dry time, you might only need to wash after four uses—but that’s “pushing it,” says Dr. Tierno.

Even though you might need to do more laundry, don’t get lazy. Bacteria aren’t in a rush to leave a thick cotton towel. “It’s really hard to clean those towels,” says Dr. Gerba. “Even with hot water, you have to go through a full cycle to remove them all.” Once it’s out, leave it in the dryer for at least 45 minutes to make sure all the moisture is gone, he says. Now that you know how often to clean your towels, learn how to clean the 16 other dirtiest items in your home

The post How Bad Is It to Not Wash Your Bath Towels Every Week? appeared first on Reader's Digest.

This year's "Dirty Dozen:"

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What made 2019's "Dirty Dozen" list
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What made 2019's "Dirty Dozen" list
12. Potatoes 
11. Celery
10. Tomatoes 
9. Pears 
8. Cherries 
7. Peaches 
6. Grapes
5. Apples 
4. Nectarines 
3. Kale
2. Spinach
1. Strawberries 
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