Hygienic washing of Bath and kitchen towels

A washing machine has become a necessary time-saving appliance in most household…easy to forget that it can be a home for germs and bacteria which can transfer between items in the wash.
Energy efficient washing machines wash at lower temperatures and detergents are designed to clean and remove stains but not to kill all germs in the wash.
In your opinion, what is the best way to hygienically wash bath and kitchen towels?

  • Wash B&K towels separately.
  • Wash together using hot water, 60C or above, and heavy duty cycle.
  • Use colour safe bleach.
  • Use vinegar.
  • Sanitise by the boiling method.
  • Other methods.

0 voters

Please add your comments below, especially to specify if using other methods.


Biozet, cold water and in it goes.
The sun kills the germs and bacteria on the wash line. I don’t and never would own a dryer. All gets hung on the washing line in nature’s disinfectant.


We wash our towels and tea towels in cold water and hang out in the sun to dry. We also have a number we rotate through so that they sit for about a month or so before being used again. Time and sun works wonders.

For the business and in accordance with industry guidelines/standards, everything is washed (together) such that at least 60°C is achieved through the washing and drying processes (our commercial drier is rated to achieve 65 °C which is adequate for sterilisation).


I wash all towels together in cold water, then hang them on the line in the outback sun to bake - they come off the line like sheets of iron - I just hope that kills any nasties …


All in together, hot wash, dry in sun. We have a dishwasher so the tea towels only wipe off water before leaving the door open to dry overnight (we don’t use the drying cycle).


All of our bathroom and kitchen towels state ‘warm machine wash’ on the care tags. Some ‘may be tumble dried’ and some ‘tumble dry on low’ and some ‘do not tumble dry’.

Warm is generally taken to be 40C. Hygienic practices vs care instructions can be ‘confusing’.


I use cold water wash and dry in the sun.

I see no reason to separate towels from other wash or to use bleach etc. There is no need to try for sterility and if you achieve it by boiling or using heavyweight chemicals it will not last long. As soon as you use a towel it will not be sterile. Are you going to use a towel more than once or have lots and keep them in sealed bags until their single use and then they go back in the wash?

You cannot kill all the germs in your wash, in the water you wash in and drink, the air you breath, the benches in your kitchen or anywhere else. The environment is full of microbes and your body is covered with them. You pots and pans and plates are nowhere near sterile. Every time you shake hands, hug or kiss somebody (or do something more sweaty) you are exchanging germs with them, zillions of germs.

The idea that you are at risk unless stuff is free of all germs is put out by those who want to sell you sanitisers, bright liquids and perfume. There is no conflict between the desire to stay healthy and save energy.


It is best to follow ‘care’ instructions on the items. Synthetic fabrics can be heat sensitive and best washed in warm water and not tumble dried or ironed.
With a warm temperature wash some type of disinfectant could be added: non-chlorine bleach, vinegar, etc…

May I ask if you wash bath and kitchen towels separately and what do you use to sanitise, if any?


All together, and they are all 100% cotton. I add vinegar to try to soften them and a bit of oxy just because. Detergent varies from Aldi to Biozet to Omo on the whim of the day (convenience and sale price).


Warm or cold water wash, with our usual septic safe laundry powder. Absolutely never use any thing extra to kill bugs in the wash. Those who have a septic that has died will know why. They are hung out on the verandah per usual. Also where less outdoor pollen etc might fall on them. Also avoids that starch crisp Central Australia feel. Rotary drier optional when not quite done (or the rains have set in) for a fluffier feel.

All our towels are cotton or linen based. Are label recommendations requiring a warm wash partly to do with the stability of the dyes used, and possibly synthetic or elastomeric stitching in some towelling?


Kitchen towels can carry E.Coli and staph bacteria, especially those that have come in contact with raw meat and raw eggs. Food-born illnesses can range from an upset stomach to food poisoning.
Wanting to hygienically wash our kitchen towels is more than an irrational fear of germs (like the one the billionaire Howard Hughes suffered from :laughing:).


I wash them separately in cold water . I add white vinegar as a softener and 2 caps of Bosisto’s Eucalyptus oil to help sanitise . The detergent I use is Earth’s Choice Laundry Liquid .


Yes they can. The question is does cold water (with laundry powder) remove enough to be safe, do you have any reason to say that it is not?

Bathroom towels will also have faecal coliforms, including E.Coli, on them too as your skin has them, especially between the waist and knees. Your bed sheets will also have plenty of germs for the same reason whether you wear jarmies or not.

This is the whole point about cleanliness generally, how do you know when material you come in contact is clean enough because domestic sterility is not practical?

There is a school of thought that says modern cleanliness is responsible for weakening our immune systems, it is called the hygiene hypothesis.

As Mark mentioned all those with septic or AWTS sewerage treatment cannot put heavyweight cleansers or antiseptics down the drain. Not that I need it these days (hallelujah) but napisan or similar as a soaker is not a possibility for me.


A rather broad statement . Can you back that up with any evidence or references ?


In the context I said:

You cannot kill all the germs in your wash, in the water you wash in and drink, the air you breath, the benches in your kitchen or anywhere else. The environment is full of microbes and your body is covered with them. You pots and pans and plates are nowhere near sterile. Every time you shake hands, hug or kiss somebody (or do something more sweaty) you are exchanging germs with them, zillions of germs.

So the cleanliness of your wash is in the context of saying that sterility (killing all the germs) is not practical in the home overall. You obviously can make your wash sterile if you want to bring it up to 70C or above for a while or add serious antibacterial chemicals but it won’t stay that way for long once it comes out of the machine and is handled.

The question is why do you want to?


By the same token: do you have any reason to say that it is?

It’s a defeatist attitude to say that because you can’t kill All, you won’t try to kill Any.

That’s a good way to sanitise but not all of us have access to sunshine at the time we need to dry our wash, therefore different methods are used:
hot water, colour fast bleach, vinegar…

It is not in the scope of this topic nor in my expertise to debate that question :slightly_smiling_face:

Why we’d want an hygienic wash? I thought it was a universal wish to stay healthy….

P.S. sanitising is not the same as sterilising.


I am getting nowhere trying to find any relevant study of domestic washing practice. There are plenty that point out:

  • Hot water kills more germs than cold.
  • Hospitals use high temperature etc to wash bedding and linen and if you work at a hospital you may need to give extra attention to washing clothes.
  • Some cleansers (eg napisan) are very good at sanitising cloth.

None of that is really relevant because they don’t address the issue of how clean is clean enough in the domestic situation. My personal reason (that I do not count as general evidence) for sticking to cold wash is that:

  • it is saves energy and your stuff lasts longer,
  • my household microbiologist says it is OK,
  • we have been doing this for many decades and suffered no ill effects.

Naughty, naughty! Putting words in my mouth. I never said don’t wash or don’t kill any germs, I said you need to clean your things well enough for the purpose. This is the core question: what is well enough?

Yes it is. Same as above, how much washing will keep you healthy without wasting resources on steps that are unnecessary?

Even if you do wash towels in hot water (or with sanitiser) and get the microbial count way down you will still be assailed from all sides by germs anyway that your personal hygiene and immune system will have to deal with.

To take this any further we need numbers, the microbial count. How much cleaner does hot water make things than cold? How does that compare with other challenges that your body must face, in other words does the difference really matter? I can’t find any such numbers.


Cold wash (although the pipes from the pressure tank get hot in summer, so some ~40C water may be mixed in at various stages of the wash), with Earth Choice laundry powder is the norm here.

Unless there is a big pile of towels, they always get washed along with other regular clothing - shirts, pants, shorts etc, so long as it isn’t particularly dirty.

Drying is in the sun on the veranda, except in particularly cold and damp winter weather when they are hung inside near the wood fired heater.

I’ve been doing it for decades with no issues.


I’ve come to accept even bathing very day is a waste. Don’t ask why teenagers seem to enjoy doing so twice daily? For older Aussies, or days where one is not covered in sweat and coal or other occupational grime, is several times per week adequate?

There’s no need for any response. Personal hygiene needs vary considerably, for many different reasons. Is the same true of body towels, hand/dish towels and even bed sheets?

Does considering how we use towels in context to our home environment and personal preferences influence how often we wash the items, and the methods chosen? If one chooses to do more, or more often, being comfortable in the outcome also counts for peace of mind, IMO.

One thought is it is more important to wash all of these items regularly than how we wash them. Although for extra heavy use or dirtiness more often might also need a more considered wash.


Napisan ‘sodium percarbonate’ is not an issue in a septic system after eight hours
Septic systems are far more robust than people realise.
Bleach as in White King type in normal and recommended use quantities can be put into a septic system after 24 hours.

There is more than sufficient qualified evidence of that.
OCD and paranoia caused by advertising is responsible for much of that.