Just by smelling a piece of clothing or carefully checking it for stains, we can decide if it is ready to be washed or can withstand another use.
But how do we know when it’s time for our towel to pay a visit to the washing machine?
How often should we wash this piece of cloth that we use to dry our body when it comes out very clean after a good shower?
A recent UK survey of 2,200 adults, for example, revealed that no one was too sure.
44% indicated that they do it every 3 months or more….
The BBC asked Sally Bloomfield, a doctor who is an expert in home hygiene and the prevention of infectious diseases, what she thought of this period of time.
“I’m a bit surprised because you would think the towels would be rough, full of perspiration and very uncomfortable to use,” she tells the BBC.
About one in five people said they washed them once a month, 25% once a week, and one in 20 did so after every bath or shower.
Why do you have to wash towels?
To put the frequency question simply, Bloomfield says that “a reasonable time frame would be at least once a week“.
“Although they may look clean, they have accumulated over time millions of germs and they can be a serious danger to the health of whoever lives with you.”
If you do not wash them regularly, says the expert, “the number of organisms on the towel increases,” and when you decide to wash them, “it is very difficult to eliminate them all”.
That’s when things can get problematic.
When we dry different parts of our body, the towels acquire organisms – like those on our feet that cause athlete’s foot.
Most organisms that live on our skin may not be infectious, but if they enter through wounds or breaks in the skin, “they can cause infections and be serious,” says Bloombield.
Is it the same if you live alone?
If you live with other people, you should be more careful.
“Sometimes, we may have organisms that do not make us sick at that moment, but if we pass them to another person, they can get sick,” says the expert.
“Germs can be transmitted to another person if you share a towel with them, but also if you put it to wash in the same wash with their things.”
“There is good evidence that infections can be transmitted,” he adds.
You may think that if you live alone, the risk is lower. And it’s true, but Bloomfield advises that, even in that situation, you should not “let more than 15 days pass”.
Cristina Psomadakis, a dermatologist at the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), says she would encourage people to examine how often they wash their towels.
“If you are someone who suffers from facial or body acne or inflammation in the hair follicleswe want you to wash the towels frequently.”
Poor hygiene in the home – including towels – can be a contributing factor to the development of skin problems.
“You have to address those hygiene issues, or things will continue to be a problem for you.”
One towel for the face and one for the gym
If you’re interested in exercise, you probably have a towel to wipe off perspiration when you feel hot.
If you use a towel in those cases, Bloomfield says you need to wash it frequently.
“You increase sweat, and you remove skin cells from the surface of your body, and more bacteria end up on the towel.”
If you don’t, comment, it will be “highly contaminated” and it will be more difficult to decontaminate it when you wash it.
And if you’re wondering if you need one for the body and one for the face, Psomadakis definitely recommends having separate towels.
“Don’t forget that when you use a body towel, you are drying places where the sun doesn’t reach, where you may have certain types of bacteria related to the movement of the intestines.”
“There may be different types of organisms that you don’t want near your face,” he says.
Bloomfield acknowledges that there is concern both about the environment and the cost of using the washing machine, but concludes that it is better to wash them frequently at a low temperature than at a high temperature once in a while.
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