Here’s How Often You Should Be Washing Your Dish Towels, According to Microbiologists

updated Oct 2, 2019
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Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn

Hi! Go wash your dish towels. ASAP. I confess that I’m as guilty as anyone for forgetting about my kitchen towels come laundry day, but after consulting the experts, those days are over. Moist (sorry) dish towels can be a festering swamp of bacteria and pose major food safety risks if you leave them to cross-contaminate other parts of your kitchen.

I asked multiple microbiologists about the proper frequency with which we should be washing our dish towels, and after what I learned, I vow to never forget about them again from this day forward. Here is the rousing dish towel sanitation discussion that ensued in a small-but-mighty corner of Microbiology Twitter.

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn

“My thoughts are to wash them every 3 to 5 days, but more frequently if you were recently cooking with meats, if it’s very damp (microbes grow better in a wet environment), or if you have very young or elderly people in your home [who are] more susceptible to illness.” Dr. Elizabeth Hutchison, Associate Professor of Biology at SUNY Geneseo

“I think it depends on what you’re using the using the towel for. I look at it as a risk continuum: If you’re just using it for drying cleaned/sanitized dishes, it’s a less risky towel and doesn’t have to be washed as frequently as one that was used to wipe counters after prep or ready-to eat stuff. The most risky towel is one used after prepping something with raw meat or flour which should go straight into the laundry after the task” Dr. Ben Chapman, Extension Specialist in Food Science at North Carolina State

“If they have any contact with raw meat juice, they should immediately be washed. Otherwise, wash every 3 to 5 days — unless they look or smell gross. Then wash sooner.” Dr. Don Schaffner, Extension Specialist in Food Science at Rutgers University

There you have it, people: You should be refreshing your dish towels out every three to five days (which is a faster rate than which I respond to some emails!), unless you’ve just prepped or cooked meat, in which case, wash them STAT. Consider the dish towel “risk continuum” and, when in doubt, just wash them.

How often do you wash your dish towels?