“Real question: does anyone I know clean their underwear in a kettle when travelling?”
Scrolling through social media this morning, these 14 words, in one foul (pun intended) swoop, ruined every relaxing cup of tea I’ve ever had in a hotel room.
My mind was racing. Who would do this? Why?
And is it really as gross as it sounds? I reached out to some experts on the matter to find out if the simple fact the underwear is literally boiling means this actually a safe thing to do, or nah.
Dr Heather Hendrickson is a Senior Lecturer in Molecular Biosciences at the Institute of Natural and Mathematical Sciences at Massey University in Aukland.
She knows what she’s talking about.
“It is super super super super gross,” Dr Hendrickson says.
Here’s the science of the matter, as explained by Dr Hendrickson.
Boiling kills most, but not all microorganisms.
For example, some bacteria form spores that are highly resistant to anything other than 120 celsius and high pressure for extended periods of time. The Clostidium botulinum spores (which causes botulism) are a prime example of this sort of resistance to the environment, Dr Hendrickson says.
“These don’t cause sickness if they are consumed, but their presence in certain environments can encourage them to produce a toxin that can be deadly.”
Dr Hendrickson points out that bacterial pathogens in water that has been contaminated in this way will either be killed by boiling, or be brought to a low level that is unlikely to negatively affect health.
“However, who knows how long that water, with nutrients that have been introduced and then sterilised, sits around in the kettle before someone else uses it?” Dr Hendrickson says, calling the act “unbelievably irresponsible.”
Why risk other people’s health in any way by doing something like this?
“Your friend is unlikely to have a large number of highly heat resistant pathogens in his dirty undergarments but we do not know what he DOES have in there or how sick he might be,” Dr Hendrickson horrifying points out.
“There are simply too many unknowns and hotel kettle’s are not industrial strength cleaning facilities.”
Look, it should be obvious, but introducing and then removing items from inside the kettle is not a sanitary behaviour, and Dr Hendrickson backs me up on this.
“Be respectful of other people and don’t do this!” Dr Hendrickson pleads, and I along with her. “I am totally grossed out by your friend!”
Me too, Dr Hendrickson.
This story has been updated since its original publication.