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You Won’t Believe What Germs Live in Your Laundry

Tips for Properly Sanitizing Your Laundry

Germs love laundry. Sweat, food, skin, hair, and lint buildup can create quite a cocktail for germs to feed off of in your dirty laundry hamper. These common germs are easy to prevent. Here is how.

What Germs are Commonly Found on Laundry?

1. Fecal Matter

Did this catch your attention? It caught ours! Dr. Charles Gerba, renowned microbiologist at the University of Arizona, said that

“The average adult undergarment has about a tenth of a gram of fecal matter.”

‍When you add dark and damp conditions, this can actually be quite dangerous. All garments, but underwear especially, should be washed inside out. This exposes the dirtiest parts of the garment to the detergent, water, and other solvents. If you do not turn your garments inside out, it is less likely to be properly cleaned. This is why laundry services and dry cleaners make a habit of washing garments inside out.

2. Salmonella

‍Every year, about 1.3 million people are infected with Salmonella, with 26,500 individuals hospitalized due to the infection and 420 dying from it, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Contamination typically happens after infected feces comes into contact with animals, crops or water and people then consume or touch those items and don’t wash their hands. This makes you take our first tip a little more serious doesn’t it?

‍Salmonella, aka Salmonella Enteritidis and Salmonella Typhimurium, can live in your dirty hamper for weeks as they don’t die off as fast as fungi or some viruses. So that dirty hamper of yours may be more dangerous than you think.

3. Staphylococcus Aureus:

‍This nasty bug causes staph infections. And if you’ve ever seen someone with a staph infection, you’d place your order with 2ULaundry right now! The worst part about Staphylococcus Aureus is that it can survive for months as it’s extremely hardy.

According to the Department of Health, It’s the leading cause of skin and soft tissue infections such as abscesses (boils), furuncles, and cellulitis. Although most staph infections are not serious, S. aureus can cause serious infections such as bloodstream infections, pneumonia, or bone and joint infections.

4. E. Coli

‍Germs such as E. Coli, and Klebsiella Oxytoca can cause pneumonia, skin infections, abdominal cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea, especially in people with compromised immune systems.

In fact, this nasty germ can live in the place that you clean your dirty clothes. That’s right. Your washing machine rarely gets cleaned itself. And germs like E. coli are very tough, lasting for weeks inside your dark and damp machine. Experts say that the newer, eco-friendly machines are doing you no favors in this regard either. Because they generally wash your clothes on lower temperatures, it never gets hot enough to kill the bacteria. Therefore, it’s best to wipe it down every now and then with disinfectants.

What Laundry Has the Most Germs?

There are two types of laundry that carry the most germs – undergarments and workout clothes.

That is fairly intuitive. The clothes that are in contact with the dirtiest parts of the body tend to be, well, dirtier. Underwear, bras, and socks are the most common laundry to have excessive germs. Proximity to the body is a great way to measure how many germs are on your laundry. Your underwear is naturally going to have more germs on it than your jacket – which is not touching your skin. The further the garment is away from your body, the less germs it attracts. 

Workout clothes are a special breed of laundry. In fact, we have a special article “How to Get Smell Out of Workout Clothes” that you might find useful.

While it might not be the proximity to your body that is getting these soiled, workout clothes are typically very bacteria-ridden.

Remember, bacteria and germs love darkness. The best thing you can do for your workout clothes is avoid putting them in your hamper while they are still covered in sweat. Don’t roll up your sweaty workout clothes into a tiny ball and stuff them at the bottom of the hamper. Spread them out to let them air out and let odors dissipate before throwing them in the hamper. While it is not always possible, the goal should be to wash your workout clothes immediately. If that is not an options, hang them to dry before cleaning. Avoid putting them in a dark, dry hamper. Hang them until they are fully dry before putting them in a hamper. 

Does Laundry Detergent Kill Germs?

No – laundry detergent does not kill germs. Laundry detergent removes stains but doesn’t kill germs or bacteria. 

Bleach kills germs. Hot water kills germs. Freezing temperatures kills germs. However, detergent doesn’t kill germs. While the majority of your laundry doesn’t need to be treated for germs, we recommend running separate loads of underwear, undergarments, and workout clothes with an Oxygen, Color Safe Bleach and Hot Water. 

Proper cleaning requires four parts: time, temperature, chemistry, and agitation. When washing your more soiled garments, we recommend you wash them separate from the rest of your laundry in a hot water cycle with added solvents to spur added chemistry.

This separated and specialized treatment of more soiled laundry is great for personal use. However, if you have kids, we recommend washing each kid’s laundry separate from adult laundry to prevent the unnecessary spread of germs.

You’ll be happy to know that while the washer doesn’t always kill germs, germs are much more likely to be killed in the dryer than in the washer. 

Using Hot Water to Kill Germs on Laundry

Water temperatures above 140 degreed Fahrenheit is enough to kill germs on laundry.

Often times, this is too hot for a residential washing machine. Check your user manual on your washer to see what temperature the hot water is released. The average hot water setting around 130 degrees Fahrenheit which is not hot enough to kill most bacteria. However, laundromat washers on the other hand can reach the 140 degree threshold. 

What is the Sanitize Cycle on Washing Machines?

Sanitize cycles on a washing machine are programmed to be hotter and longer than normal cycles as part of an effort to sanitize the cycle. However, it can be harmful to your garments. 

Instead of using the Sanitize Cycle on your garments, we recommend you instead use it to clean your washing machine. While it might be ok for sheets and towels, the temperatures can be too much for delicate laundry. The Hot Cycle should be just fine. Try to avoid laundry in the Sanitize Cycle – saving this only for cleaning your washing machine.

Does Dry Cleaning Kill Germs

Yes – dry cleaning is a very effective way to kill germs.

While it is not always an option to dry clean your undergarments and workout clothes, we recommend that you rid your formal wear of germs by sending it in for dry cleaning

Wash Sheets and Towels Separately

We have a full article that details all the reasons you should wash your sheets and towels separately. There are plenty of reasons – from material weight to sanitation needed. Due to the moisture that accumulates on towels, these should be washed on hotter cycles with stronger solvents. Simply splitting how you wash your linens and towels can make a big different in preventing germs from sneaking their way in.

Linens in general should be dried on higher temperatures. While your washing machine not get hot enough to properly sanitize you linens, your dryer does get hot enough. Consider a high heat dry next time you are washing your towels.

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