Are You Washing Your Dish Towels Often Enough?

Here's how often they should really be taking a spin in the washing machine.

Dirty Dish Towel on Counter
Photo: Getty Images

Dish towels are one of the most versatile tools in a Southern home. They can cover bread dough while it rises, be used to dry freshly-washed salad greens, keep tea cakes warm, serve as an impromptu trivet or baby bib, and even add Christmas cheer to your kitchen. Plus, because they come in an array of colors and patterns and different materials, including cotton, microfiber, and even bamboo and flour sack, dish towels are not only useful, but can be downright cheery to have on hand.

Since dish towels work so hard in the kitchen and are used so regularly throughout the day drying hands and dishes and mopping up spills, they may not make it to the washing machine quite as often as they should. And dish towels do need to be washed regularly.

We've reported in the past on a study that found that those handy towels can be breeding grounds for bacteria that cause food poisoning and infections, including E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus, also known as staph. Neither of those are things that should be lurking around a kitchen. Since we want to make sure to avoid providing a place for bacteria to grow, we consulted an expert to see just how often we should really be tossing our well-loved kitchen towels into the wash.

How Often Should You Wash Dish Towels

"First of all, I love dish towels, so much better than paper towels and frankly so much nicer to look at. I have never found paper towels with carrots on them, for example," says Patric Richardson, the so-called Laundry Evangelist who also hosts The Laundry Guy on Discovery+. "As for how often to wash them, it sort of depends on their use. If you have one hanging that you only ever use to dry your hands, washing it every four days or so is fine, assuming it has a chance to dry out at some point during the day.

"If you are using dish towels for spills or to wipe the counter—or if you think that you got juices on it when you cut up the chicken—don't use them more than one day," Richardson explains. "You don't have to wash them every day, just let them dry and toss them in the hamper. They are relatively safe to store with dirty clothes as long as they stay dry."

It is also a good idea to rinse food particles and any solid matter out of the towels before putting them in the hamper or the washer.

Tips for Washing Dish Towels

When it is time to wash those kitchen towels, if they are heavily soiled, it's a good idea to wash them as a separate load from regular laundry, throwing in any other germ-infested items you may have around, like mop heads, soiled rags, and bathroom cleaning cloths. Other than that, you're good to go.

"You don't have to be aggressive in the wash," Richardson notes. "Just use a quality detergent and wash. If you are concerned about germs, use an oxygenated bleach, as chlorine bleach wrecks colors and can degrade the fibers."

When they've been washed and dried, Richardson has a suggestion: "I know it sounds crazy, but ironing them will help them be more stain resistant, so if you have time..."

Whether you do or don't have the time to iron your dish towels, when they are clean, fold them neatly and put them back in the drawer. That way they'll be ready for the next time you need them for cooking, baking, cleaning, or tying around the handle of a hot cast iron skillet.

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