Are you rubbing germs all over your body? (Photo: Getty Images)
While everyone knows it’s important to throw their bath towels into the washing machine (you know this, right?), many people are most likely not laundering their towels (or tossing them into the hamper) as frequently as they should.
Believe it or not, a clean, dry towel gets pretty dirty the moment you wrap it around your dripping-wet body after stepping out of the shower.
“There are always germs on us, that’s for sure,” Marilyn C. Roberts, a professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at the University of Washington School of Public Health, tells Yahoo Beauty. “And there are absolutely bacteria on a wet towel immediately after drying off.”
The biggest issue with any bath towel is the dampness. “It’s the same problem as with the loofah sponge. If it remains wet, bacteria will grow,” Roberts says. “Bacteria love moisture, but they do not love areas that have been desiccated. And bathrooms tend to be a humid place, so unless you live in a desert, your towel isn’t going to be dried from morning until evening.”
She quickly points out that the majority of the bacteria on our skin is protective, “so it’s not going to cause a problem,” says Roberts. “However, there are bacteria from the water that can also be on the towel because they were just on your skin.”
Environmental bacteria, such as nontuberculous mycobacteria (which can be found in shower heads and may cause lung infection) and possibly Legionella (which can multiply in a building’s water system and lead to a respiratory condition) may be lingering on our towels.
“Most of these bacteria are not pathogens [an organism that can cause an illness or disease], but there are people who can be at risk.”
Individuals with open wounds or any type of skin condition — “like if you have eczema, an MRSA infection [which is brought on by a staph infection], a strep infection [streptococcus bacteria, a strain of bacteria that affects the skin and throat]”— and those with a weakened immune system “because you’re living with a chronic illness, like diabetes, or you’ve just had a viral infection,” as well as the “very young and the very old,” need to be extra careful.
“These people should probably use clean towels each time [they shower] because they could be spreading it [the bacteria] from one spot to another,” advises Roberts.
And then there’s the added risk of sharing towels, such as a hand towel.
“You have to realize that if anyone in your home is sick, the bathroom is a great place to transfer infections, whether it’s a skin infection, a cold, or a fecal-oral infection [where fecal matter is passed from one person to another],” she states. “And a lot of people don’t wash their hands properly.”
For noninfectious adults who shower twice a day, Roberts suggests having two bath towels on your rack at all times — one to dry off in the morning, the other to use at night, in order to give each towel 24 hours to be moisture-free. And whether healthier adults shower once or twice a day, their used towels should be exchanged for clean ones about every four to five days.
In order to dry your damp towel as quickly as possible, either turn on a fan, open a window, or crank up the heat in the bathroom. You might even want to consider hanging your damp towel in a less humid environment, such as the bedroom.
“As always, common sense is critically important,” adds Roberts. “If the towel smells or is really stiff, get another one!”