It’s quite possible that your newly washed, April-fresh-smelling clothes aren’t as clean as you think. Recent research by the American Cleaning Institute (ACI) and other experts indicate that many of us are going about the practice of washing our clothes completely wrong.
For starters, if you’re washing clothes in cold water, using antibacterial detergent, or simply not washing certain items frequently enough, you may have to change some old habits.
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When it comes to water temperature, you probably need to go hotter. “If you’re putting clothes in cold water, you aren’t getting rid of bacteria,” Marcelle Pick, an ob-gyn and pediatric nurse practitioner at the Women to Women health care center based in Yarmouth, Maine, tells Yahoo Shine. “For babies, their clothes tend to be more contaminated, so you should definitely wash using hotter temperatures.”
Onesies and soft-stuffed animals may look adorable, but there’s a chance they contain bacteria derived from feces. “Once you become a parent, the amount of laundry you do skyrockets,” says Janet Ozzard, executive editor of the Baby Center. “And if you're taking care of a newborn, a lot of the stuff that comes out of babies is as germy as it gets — spit-up, pee, and poop.”
According to the ACI’s best practices, cold water can be used to presoak heavily soiled items. But for the actual wash cycle, hot water should be used, along with detergent and bleach, if necessary, to thoroughly clean, sanitize, and disinfect.
But many environmentalists, who advocate using cold water over hot water for machine-washing in order to save energy, have a different take on the study. Ed Osann, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) senior water policy analyst, explained to Shine in an email that the most important part of the process is using an effective detergent, not using hot water. “Warm or even hot water is not hot enough to sterilize clothes exposed to fecal matter. If detergent is formulated for comparable effectiveness in cold water, then no extra benefit would be expected from warm water use." Osann suggested avoiding antibacterial detergents that actually promote the growth of resistant bacteria and making sure to thoroughly dry clothes.
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So what about adult clothes, towels and sheets? Are we cleaning those correctly? Probably not, or at least not often enough. The ACI breaks down the number of times your clothes should come into contact with soap and water. Underwear, socks, tanks, and T-shirts should be cleaned after each wear, along with tights and, believe it or not, jeggings. You can get three or four wears out of your jeans and khakis before they need a cleaning. Bed sheets should be washed at least every two weeks (but more often if you sweat a lot) and towels should be hung dry after each use and washed every three to four days.
Baby Center's Ozzard says that the best way to ensure your clothes stay hygienic is to keep the washing machine germ-free. Ozzard recommends first running an empty wash with hot water, bleach and soap to disinfect the machine.“Be sure to run an extra rinse cycle so the bleach is thoroughly flushed out.”
She also suggests starting off with whites and high-temperature items first, using hot water with detergent, then drying on high for 45 minutes to sanitize the dryer. “That way, when you do the rest of your laundry, the machines are fairly well sanitized.”
And you can still be kind to the environment while you adapt to your new wash cycle. Washing in warm water and line-drying in the sun is an eco-friendly way to thoroughly clean clothes and save energy, Ozzard says. Pick adds that as children get older, their clothes are less soiled and may not need to be washed at such high temperatures anymore.
The main takeaway: If you really want your tropical-fruit-and-cool-breeze-smelling clothes to be clean, consider warmer water, avoid antibacterial soap, do your whites first, and make sure your clothes get thoroughly dried. Post laundry nap optional.