Your Dish Towels Aren't As Clean As You Think—Here's How Often You Should Wash Them

Time to do some laundry.

Long before you give them a "sniff test" and find they’re a little on the funky side, your dish towels have already been breeding germs—yucky stuff that you wipe on your hands, your dishes, and all over your countertops. Turns out that a quick wring-out and a drape over the faucet are not going to keep your towels at their peak. In fact, you should be washing them much more often than you probably do. 

Why You Should Wash Dish Towels Every Day

"It’s recommended to wash dish towels daily," says Darenton Randall, a scientist at Tide. "Think about it—you throw away your paper towels after every use, right? It’s only logical that you should also wash your dish towels every day."

It turns out that there are lots of reasons to toss a used towel in the laundry hamper. "Although germs can contribute to unpleasant odors, unseen soils known as 'invisible stains,' can produce malodors as well,” Randall says. "Many people don’t thoroughly wash their dish towels after cleaning their dishes, because they think the towels are handwashed in the process. If not washed properly, persistent invisible stains can set-in and fume stinky smells."

There’s science to back up this concern, says lifestyle expert Cheryl Nelson. "Researchers at the American Society of Microbiology presented the findings of a study that collected 100 kitchen towels after one month of use,” she says. “Results showed that nearly half of the towels contained bacterial growth including Salmonella., E. coli, Listeria and Staphylococcus aureus.”

Best Bests for Towel Fabrics

“There are pros and cons to different dish towel fabrics,” Nelson says. “Some are better absorbers, some can't be washed in hot water, and some are best used for drying dishes and glasses. Overall, I prefer dish towels made from tightly-woven cotton. This type of dish towel is soft, absorbent, and can be washed many times without losing durability or strength. Soft cotton towels also help prevent watermarks and smudging with minimal effort.”

Another eco-tip from Nelson: “When washing cloth towels, add them to your regular wash loads so you're not using extra water to water only a couple of towels.”

Non-cloth alternatives

If cloth or paper aren’t always an option, you might consider a plant-based reusable towel that’s biodegradable and compostable, like Nimbus’ Multi-Surface Towel and Nimby Expanding Towels.

“They’re naturally anti-microbial, which means no pesky odor-causing bacteria or mold,” says company co-founder Mark Samuels.” Best of all, they’re machine washable and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified."

a white person's hands are holding a dish towel and drying a plate

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How Long Should You Keep Cloth Towels? 

“If you notice your towels consistently have lingering odors after laundering, and/or a decrease in absorbency, it’s probably a good time for you to replace them,” Randall says. “If you want to repurpose your old dish towels, don’t be afraid to get creative. You can use old towels to package fragile objects, make pet toys, or whatever unique idea that comes to mind.”

Nelson adds, “A great use for old towels is any outdoor work. We have a stash of old towels that we use as mechanic or yard-work towels."

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