Here’s How Often You Should Be Washing Your Dish Towels

It's so easy to completely forget about washing your dish towels until they start smelling up your kitchen, but that might be a bit too long to wait before throwing them in the washing machine.

Unlike all the things that you’re washing too often, most people are probably not throwing their dish towels in the washing machine quite often enough. It’s easy to forget them, and after they’ve air-dried, they look ready for another use. But too often, we keep using them long after they’ve gotten dirty, and all we’re really doing is spreading bacteria and germs on everything they touch.

“Believe it or not, dish towels can be one of the dirtiest items in your home. From cleaning up spills to wiping off counter tops, they often get used more than they’re cleaned,” said Bailey Carson, head of cleaning at Handy. A study by the American Society of Microbiology showed that half of kitchen towels tested contained some sort of bacterial growth, such as E. coli or staph. Because dish towels are so absorbent, they are the perfect home for bacteria, mildew, and even mold. Your damp, warm towel is also the ideal breeding ground for that bacteria. That smell you associate with your dish towels and washcloths? Yup. That’s mold and mildew. If your towels or cloths smell, it’s time for a wash in very hot water. If they come out of the dryer still smelling less than pleasant? It’s time to get a new set.

But exactly how often DO you need to wash your dish towels to avoid spreading germs? That answer is: It depends. It depends on what exactly you’re using your dish towels for. Are they just for drying your hands after washing them, with maybe a quick use to mop up some spilled water or a food stain on the front of your cupboards? In that case, Julie Finch-Scally, founder of The Duster Dollies, says that it’s all right to reuse that type of towel for three to four days. If you’re using your dish towels to wipe up anything other than your wet hands, they’re getting more use than a towel you use after you shower, and you’ll have to wash them more often than the average amount of time you should wait between washing your bath towels.

If you’re using your dish towels to wipe down cutting boards, wash down stovetops, clean up after spills, or even for drying your dishes, you may have to replace them a bit more often. In this case, Liz O’Hanlon, director of Metro Cleaning (UK) Ltd, says, “Ideally you should wash your dishcloths once a day. Unless you use the towel to wipe up spillages which include raw meat or fish; then the towel should be washed immediately after use.” Of course, this doesn’t mean you have to run a load of a few towels every single day. Laura Smith, owner of All Star Cleaning Services, recommends collecting dirty towels in a small wastebasket under your sink and washing them when you’ve got a full load. That way, once you’ve figured out how often you need to wash your bedsheets, you can throw them all in together.

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Isabel Roy
Isabel Roy has been a writer and editor for RD.com since February of 2019. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin La Crosse with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Writing and Rhetoric. She is thrilled to be living and working in the Big Apple although she misses the easy access to freshly made Wisconsin cheese curds and Kopps Custard. When not at the Reader’s Digest office, you can find her downing too many chai lattes and rereading her favorite Harry Potter books.