Experts reveal how often you need to wash your towels if you want to avoid spreading bacteria

Your bathroom towels – you know, the ones you rub all over yourself AFTER you wash up – are harboring a lot of crap. Sometimes quite literally.

No, this isn’t another “be afraid of everything” fear-mongering story, it’s just the simple truth. Organisms that cause everything from illness to acne can be found inside the average household towel, even if you wash them weekly.

It simply doesn’t matter how fluffy and white and clean-looking they are. This is stuff you can’t see.

Pixabay Source: Pixabay

Sure, we live around billions of microorganisms every second of every day and most of them do us no harm. The number of things living on your towel is less important than the variety. Some can do real harm (and others might explain why you feel like your face is clean but it keeps breaking out).

Towels offer the perfect environment for things like bacteria to grow – they’re always damp at some point, they’re absorbent, they’re often warm, and they hang around in dark bathrooms. It’s a great place for all sorts of microorganisms to thrive.

Flickr Source: Flickr

In addition, most people don’t wash their hands properly.

If you’re not washing with soap for 20 seconds, you’re not doing it right and the germs that linger on your hands and under your fingernails as a result end up on your petri dish of a towel. (This becomes even more important during cold and flu season and is now getting more attention with the spread of the new coronavirus COVID-19.) Source:

And there’s plenty of evidence that if you’re using a week-old towel, you’re likely rubbing everything from E. coli to salmonella to coliform bacteria (yes, fecal organisms) on your face and body.

According to Charles Gerba, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona, nearly 90% of bathroom towels were contaminated with coliform bacteria and about 14% carried E. coli. His published research also found potentially dangerous bacteria on kitchen towels.

“After about two days, if you dry your face on a hand towel, you’re probably getting more E. coli on your face than if you stuck your head in a toilet and flushed it,” Gerba said.

A little sensational, yes, but how else can you get the point across to some people?

To drive the point home, Inside Edition decided to gross some very tidy women out with the reality of what was on the towels they thought were so fresh and clean.

The show began with model Melissa Hunter of NYC, who washes her towels once a week. Like many people, she sees no problem drying her face and hands with the same towel she uses to dry off her body after a shower.

Screenshot via Inside Edition/YouTube Source: Screenshot via Inside Edition/YouTube

When her towel was swabbed and tested for bacteria, she was shocked by the results.

Her towels contained one fungus and 5 different types of bacteria.

Screenshot via Inside Edition/YouTube Source: Screenshot via Inside Edition/YouTube

That’s no surprise. You may have just taken a shower, but rubbing a towel on your nether region will pick up some germs. Keep that thing off your face!

And if you don’t wash your hands properly, think about all the things you end up depositing on your towels after a long day of working, commuting, shopping, etc. Add children to that and you’ve got even more germs!

Now, as we said, it’s really all about the type of bacteria found – and in Hunter’s case, there was E. coli on her towel. That could have come from drying off after a shower or the airborne particles that travel around one’s bathroom after flushing a toilet.

Flickr Source: Flickr

Yes, your towel has poo on it. Sorry.

Hunter’s towel had a bacteria count of roughly 260,000 on day one. And, frankly, there’s no way to live in a germ-free world. But what’s worth noting is that by day seven, the bacteria count shot up to 650 million.

This stuff grows and multiplies the more you use a towel. That’s just common sense.

Screenshot via Inside Edition/YouTube Source: Screenshot via Inside Edition/YouTube

The show visited a few more families to test their towels, and some of them were quite confident they were drying off with clean cloths. And they were all wrong.

E. coli was the most common bacteria found, but Staphylococcus aureus or “staph” was present in some as well. Staph can cause everything from pimples to pneumonia under the right circumstances.

Screenshot via Inside Edition/YouTube Source: Screenshot via Inside Edition/YouTube

So, do you want to avoid wiping potentially disease-causing bacteria all over your face and hands? It’s not hard to do.

  • Wash your towels more often! Every 3 days is recommended.
  • Wash them in hot water.
  • Wash your hands well after you touch them to put them in the washing machine (especially if they’ve been sitting around in a hamper), otherwise, you’re just spreading those germs to the next thing you touch.
  • Have clean back-up towels so you can switch them out more often (and store them away from your toilet).
  • If you can, you might even dry your towels in between uses so dampness doesn’t add to the problem.
Pixabay Source: Pixabay

Laundry sucks, but so does wiping fecal bacteria all over yourself.

And if you’re concerned that washing towels more often is not environmentally-friendly, you’re correct. But this is one instance in which we have to make a tough decision.

Scroll down below to see some people who thought they were very clean get shocked by their swab results.

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Source: Time, Inside Edition via YouTube,, The Atlantic