You’ll Probably Want to Wash Your Kitchen Towels After Reading This

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You may have noticed a new study on kitchen towel bacteria that’s been getting a lot of attention.

At first glance, the study’s results are pretty gross and a little alarming. But before you toss all your kitchen hand towels in the trash, let’s take a closer look at its conclusion.

Researchers from the University of Mauritius gathered 100 kitchen towels from an assortment of homes with families of different sizes to test the cloth for surface bacteria.

Almost half the towels tested positive for Staphylococcus aureus, Enterococcus spp. and coliform bacteria (specifically E.coli) — microorganisms that could ultimately lead to food poisoning.

Staphylococcus bacteria is typically found on your skin or in your nose. The remaining two types of bacteria are commonly found in the intestines.

I’ll let you work out for yourselves how those last two microorganisms wound up on towels that live in the kitchen.

Kitchen linens are also used to clean up spills, wipe down counters and even mop up the floor. It’s no wonder those innocent-looking towels hanging near your stove or refrigerator are teeming with bacteria just looking for an opportunity to make us sick.

I clutched my pearls when I first read about this study and made a mental note to burn all my kitchen towels by sundown.

But then I took a closer look at the details and learned the linens collected by the researchers hadn’t been washed in at least a month.

A month?

Look, I’m not here to judge anyone’s laundry habits. You do you.

But I’m pretty sure kitchen towels that haven’t seen the inside of a washing machine in more than 30 days are bound have a ton of bacteria on them — and who knows what else.

I’m not saying you should ignore the study, but this isn’t the first one to suggest that kitchen towels are just pretty petri dishes.

In a  2014 University of Arizona study led by microbiologist Charles Gerba, researchers collected 82 towels from five major cities in North America to run bacteria tests.

(Amusingly, researchers gathered the towels by going door-to-door asking whoever answered if they’d donate a kitchen towel for the study. Those must have been some interesting conversations.)

Anyway, Gerba found coliforms on 89% and E. coli on 25.6% of the towels.

And I hate to tell you this, but towels aren’t the only thing in your kitchen that bacteria like to call home.

Gerba says common kitchen items like sponges and cutting boards harbor more than their fair share of microorganisms.

Bacteria even turn up on can openers and blender gaskets.

So you see, your kitchen towels may have little colonies of bacteria on them, but so do most of the other things in your cooking space.

You could invest in disposable paper towels to avoid hosting a bacterial breeding ground on linens, but that can get pricy.

Instead, take care to hang up damp kitchen towels to air out. Wash them frequently on the hot cycle in your washing machine and dry them on the hottest dryer setting.

Thorough washing techniques lessen your chances of contracting food poisoning or other illnesses caused by germs lurking in the folds of your kitchen towels.

Now that you know how to deal with bacteria on kitchen linens, we should probably talk sometime about what’s on your smartphone.

Lisa McGreevy is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She uses a clean kitchen towel every day but rarely remembers to wipe down her smartphone. She will now.

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