Kitchen Towels Are Growing All Kinds of Nasty Bacteria, Science Says

published Jun 13, 2018
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(Image credit: Diana Liang)

There are certain spots of the house we just know are gross. The trash can and its immediate environs are probably a bit grimy. Who knows what lurks around the dog’s food dish? And I don’t ever want to see under my refrigerator. The kitchen towel, however, is supposed to be sacrosanct because it touches everything. We dry our hands and dishes on it. But it turns out that cute kitchen towel with the cross-stitch rooster might actually be harboring a truly awful amount of bacteria.

Your Kitchen Towel Is Not As Clean As You Think It Is

According to CNN, a new study presented this week at the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology indicates that kitchen towels may not be as clean as their owners think.

The researchers looked at 100 kitchen towels, and they said that after a month of use, 49 percent of the towels were growing bacteria that is normally found in the human body. Staph bacteria were growing on 14 of the towels, and more than three-quarters of the 49 towels had bacteria normally found in the intestines, like E. coli.

Intestinal bacteria in the kitchen is pretty gross, and a kitchen towel could transfer bacteria back to a person’s hands, food or cooking tools. But these findings do not sound very surprising. I would definitely expect a kitchen towel to be harboring some nasty bacteria after a month of use. I’m not the most vigilant about doing laundry, but leaving damp fabric in food prep areas sounds like an open invitation to the bacteria ball.

According to the researchers, the staph bacteria was more likely to be found on towels in large households, and the intestinal bacteria were more likely to be found in families that prepared and consumed meat. Raw meat contains bacteria, and if you use the towel to dry your hands after handling it, or your tools after preparing it, the bacteria could easily transfer to the towel.

Bacteria was also more likely to be found on wet towels and towels that were used for multiple different purposes, like drying hands or utensils, or wiping off surfaces.

How to Take Care of Your Kitchen Towels

To prevent the growth of bacteria, professor Paul Dawson told CNN’s Mark Lieber that it’s best to have different towels for different uses. It might seem easy to have one towel hanging on the bar of the oven or the handle of the refrigerator, and then just use that for drying hands, drying counters, and wiping utensils, dishes, and kitchen tools, but we should really be keeping separate towels for each of those things, and washing those towels a lot more often than once a month.

“You want to change that towel every few days,” Dawson said. “If you have multiple towels, just throw one in the washer and get a new one.”