How often do you wash your towels? After one use? Every few days? Once a week?
For a staggering number of UK residents, it's not as often as you might expect.
A bathroom and shower company curious about towel hygiene quizzed 2,200 people across the UK on exactly how often they wash their towels. The findings? It turns out that many people are wringing out every last drop of use from their towels before chucking them in the laundry basket. The findings:
Almost a quarter (24%) of those surveyed claim to wash their towels every week, and 5% said they do so after every bath or shower.
On the other end of the scale, about 33% of respondents confessed to washing their bathroom towels just once every three months. Residents of Leicester and Glasgow are the most likely to go the longest without washing their bathroom towels, with over four in 10 (41%) from both cities admitting to washing their towels only every three months at most.
The real headline, however, is the finding that 3% of people surveyed refresh their bathroom towels just once a year. If these findings represent the entire UK population, that's over 1.5 million people admitting to a single annual towel cleanse.
When it comes to the motivating factors behind towel hygiene, the majority (67%) prioritise visual cleanliness, followed closely by concerns about odours (61%) and the frequency of usage (58%). Worryingly, 15% wait until their towels become stiff before washing them.
So, what's the problem with an unwashed towel? Let's talk bacteria.
According to experiment, a fresh-out-of-the-wash towel starts its day with a modest 190,000 bacteria on its threads. Fast forward to after a mere 24 hours of use, and you've got yourself a towel teeming with 17 million bacteria. A week later, this increases more than fivefold to 94 million.
According to the NHS, towels can indeed spread germs — and pose other health hazards — in several ways:
When towels or bedding are used by multiple people, germs can spread between them.
Handling dirty laundry can transfer germs onto your hands.
Germs can also spread between items of clothing during the washing process.
Germs on clothes and towels often originate from our own bodies, including sweat and dead skin cells. While many of these bacteria are harmless, some can cause infections.
Back in 2003, a sudden MRSA outbreak hit a team of LA college football players. Scientists traced it back to athletes sharing dirty towels, especially for drying turf burns.
To minimise transmission risk, it's important to wash clothes regularly. In some cases, like when dealing with high-risk items — which, according to the NHS, includes sports clothing — washing at higher temperatures with a bleach-based product is recommended.
Take home message
While we've had a laugh at the quirks of towel care, it's worth remembering that regular laundry maintenance is essential. A realistic rule to follow — for all kinds of towels — is to throw it in the wash after three uses. Just please don't wait a year.
Author: Jennifer Browne