Why You Should Never Wash Tea Towels With Bath Towels

Why You Should Never Wash Tea Towels With Bath Towels

When it comes to life skills worth mastering, laundry is pretty high on the list. Taking a ‘meh, whatever will work’ approach is a recipe for disaster – along with pinky-hued whites, probably.

Now, if you’ve been doing your laundry thing for some time now, chances are you’ll be aware that some items should be separated. (Whether or not you actually separate them is another thing, but understanding the concept is pretty common.) Whites go with whites, delicates should probably be hand-washed, and towels go with towels, right?

Kind of.

As the Lifehacker team has come to learn, it’s not widely understood that not all towels play nicely together. The reason for that is pretty damn gross, too.

Why can’t I throw my towels with everything else?

As Better Homes & Gardens writes, bath towels should always be treated as a separate entity. Washing those bad boys with tea towels or clothes puts you at risk of transferring bacteria between those items.

And if you’re talking about bathroom towels, the bacteria we’re dealing with is often faecal matter. Some studies have found traces of coliform bacteria and E. coli on bathroom towels. Which, y’know, makes sense – as nasty as it sounds.

Time magazine has reported recently that poor hand hygiene (though we’re better with that in the COVID era) often means that after washing our hands, we’re transferring bacteria onto damp, dark surfaces (our towels) where bacteria’s likely to thrive. It’s the perfect environment for a germ party.

Kitchen tea towels also have a tendency to get pretty nasty over time with food products and random spills, so mixing the two towel varieties means you may be creating something of a bacteria cocktail. As well as mixing faecal matter with kitchen items. (Spew.) Although, as Time writes, Charles Gerba, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona has also found traces of E. coli on kitchen towels. This just depends on how often they’re cleaned.

How to properly wash your towels

If you’d like to avoid any nastiness in your laundry, separate all your items according to purpose (kitchen, bathroom, clothing), and make sure you’re washing your towels on a hot setting. Southern Living writes that pre-rinsing can be a good idea for particularly dirty towels. The outlet also shared that adding bleach to bleach-safe towels can be a good way to dial up the intensity of the clean. Just don’t pour bleach directly onto your towels, okay?


  • I’ve been washing towels with teatowels for a long time. But I wash the whole lot in HOT water, as this also serves as a way of getting a hot load through the machine and reducing the amount of scrud caking up inside the bowl. I also throw in some laundry sanitiser which supposedly kills everything too. One would imagine that should be enough to eliminate the risk of bacterial infection and cross contamination.
    Washing towels in cold would be a huge no-no though. But some people still seem to do it.

  • This is not really an issue if you use laundry detergent, which is significantly more effective at removing bacteria than the soap we use to maintain hand hygiene by removing bacteria. This should be evident by the fact that the study finding traces of E. coli on hand towels linked E. coli numbers with frequency of washing, “with numbers on towels being lower the more often they were washed. Age of the towel and days since last time washed did not influence the concentration of any of the bacteria in the towels. The results suggest that E. coli is particularly easily removed during washing or requires an unusually long time to colonize and grow in the towels”, i.e. you are not cross-contaminating towels during the cleaning process because the cleaning process removes the bacteria.

Show more comments

Log in to comment on this story!