Forget Door Handles and Toilet Seats – the Most Germ-Infested Objects in Your Home are Your TOWELS
Germ-ridden towels could be the worst culprits for spreading bugs around the home, researchers have warned. And its not just kitchen towels that are to blame – bath towels can also spread diseases. The problem is two fold: first, towels retain moisture for long periods of time, allowing the bacteria to survive. Secondly, they are used in the most germ-ridden areas of the house.
The recent study, from the University of Arizona, found coliform bacteria – bacteria present in faeces which can lead to outbreaks of food poisoning and diarrhoea – in 89 per cent of kitchen tea-towels and E. coli in 25.6 per cent of towels.The researchers said towels are more likely to be bacteria-ridden than other household items because they are used to wipe hand and surfaces that might have come into contact with raw meat products.
Study author Charles Gerba said: “You can cross contaminate food when you wipe your hands on a towel and then contaminate other foods or bring your hands to your mouth and infect yourself. “With face and bath towels you may spread bacteria and viruses among family members who use the same towels”
And bunging them in the washing machine might not be enough, either.The researchers warned of another study which found bacteria can survive washing and drying with detergent in the kitchen.
‘Coliforms, E. coli and Salmonella can survive the drying of kitchen cleaning cloths and regrow if the cloth becomes soiled again,’ researchers wrote in the study.They say soaking the cloths in bleach for two minutes was more effective in reducing numbers of bacteria than washing.
Professor Anthony Hilton, head of biological and biomedical sciences at Aston University, warned washing towels at low temperatures does not always kill bacteria.
He said: ‘There’s a tendency towards people to use lower temps to wash fabrics, down to 30. If a child is unwell, and vomits on fabrics, they need to be washed at high temperatures.‘Many of these organisms thrice at body temperature, they live at 37. So washing at 30 is not going to kill them. But there are laundry additives designed to enhance low temperature washing that will kill bacteria.’Even regular bathroom towels need be used with care, he added. ‘When you rub a towel on your body or face, you leave a microbial fingerprint.
‘If it remains damp, such as after a shower, the organisms start to grow. That’s why towels start to grow musty.In real terms of causing infection, there are lots of bacteria that aren’t harmful.
‘But as an extreme, someone could wipe their backside and then those organisms would be on the towel, perhaps a child or someone with a diarrheal illness.
‘The towel would be used to wipe a face then you’ve got that faecal-oral link that leads to infection.’Infections such as athlete’s foot are another issue, he said.
‘Anything with an exposure risk, especially in a damp environment, can spread infections.
‘If I had athlete’s foot and rubbed my foot on someone else’s, they would expect to catch it. Putting a towel in between just wakes the towel the vehicle for exposure.’
And cross-contamination can be even worse in the kitchen, he explained.
‘In the kitchen environment you’ve got the dish cloth which lives in the sink in a bit of water used to dry up spills.
Then you’ve got the tea towel used to dry dishes when they’re clean.
‘The problem comes when they are used for different purposes. ‘The towels get used for wiping up footprints from a cat, or a shoe. ‘You might end up washing up a spillage of raw chicken juices, and then next you might wipe some chocolate off a baby’s face with the same towel.‘It’s probably full of nutrients, its damp, so bacteria will thrive.‘These bacteria cause diarrhoeal disease, gastroenteritis.’