How often you should wash towels? Over a million Brits clean theirs just once a year

                             A woman wearing a bathrobe presses her face into a white bath towel while standing in a bathroom
Bathroom towels carry large amounts of bacteria and require regular laundering. (Getty Images)

One of life’s small comforts is stepping out of a refreshing shower and wrapping up in a fluffy, freshly laundered towel – but new research suggests that more than a million Britons only experience that joy once a year.

According to a survey of 2,200 UK residents, 3% of those surveyed only wash their bathroom towels once a year, equivalent to more than 1.5 million people.

Men are five times more likely to be guilty of washing their bathroom towels only once a year, with 5% of male respondents admitting to the practice compared to 1% of women.

The research, conducted by bathroom experts Showers to You, also found that nearly one in 10 Britons surveyed only wash their bathroom towels twice a year, while more than 17 million people put their towels in the laundry just once every three months.

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It comes after a Japanese TV programme reportedly tested the bacterial content of bath towels and found that a freshly washed towel contained 190,000 counts of bacteria.

After just one day of use, the same towel’s bacterial content increased to 17 million. The figured soared even higher to 87 million after three days of use, and reached 94 million on towels that were used for a week.

Noritoshi Ri, director of the Hygiene and Microbiology Research Centre in Tokyo, told the programme that the bacteria count on a towel after a week of use could potentially reach more than 10 billion, on par with a drainage pipe.

Previous studies have shown that bathroom towels can become one of the most germ-infested objects in the home if they are not washed regularly. A 2018 study by microbiologist Charles Gerba, of the University of Arizona, said he found that nearly 90% of bathroom towels were contaminated with coliform bacteria – which are present in faeces – and around 14% carried E coli.

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The Showers to You study additionally found:

  • almost one in five (38%) of respondents wash their towels once a month

  • almost a quarter (24%) wash them once a week

  • One in five respondents are extra cautious and said they wash their towels every single day

While most people are unlikely to get sick from touching a used towel, experts have emphasised the importance of washing them regularly to maintain a good level of hygiene within the home.

A stack of colourful towels in a bathroom with a basket of flowers in the background
Bath towels retain a lot of moisture and are usually left in warm, humid environments, allowing bacteria to breed. (Getty Images)

Why do towels have so much bacteria on them?

Towels retain moisture for a long period of time, which can become a breeding ground for bacteria, particularly in a warm, humid environment such as the inside of a bathroom.

Dr Hamdan Abdullah Hamed, board-certified dermatologist and co-founder of Power Your Curls, explains: “Towels tend to accumulate moisture, creating an environment conducive to bacterial and fungal growth. Bacteria like staphylococcus aureus can lead to skin infections, while fungi like Candida yeast can cause issues like athlete’s foot or yeast infections.

“Additionally, dirty towels may contain allergens that can trigger allergic reactions or skin irritations in sensitive individuals.”

How often should you wash your towels?

Dr Abdullah recommends washing bathroom towels after every three or four uses. Doing so can help “eliminate bacteria, dirt, dead skin cells, and allergens, ensuring optimal hygiene and minimising health risks”.

Experts at Good Housekeeping also recommend washing towels after three or four uses. However, towels that have been used after working out or at the gym should be washed after every use as these contain sweat and may be exposed to other airborne bacteria.

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A grey towel sits inside a washing machine ready to be laundered
Washing bath towels at 60C or at 40C with a powerful detergent can help kill bacteria. (Getty Images)

What temperature should you wash bathroom towels at to kill bacteria?

According to the NHS, towels, along with household linen and underwear, should be washed at 60C to prevent the spread of germs, or at 40C with a bleach-based laundry product.

The hottest wash program offered by most washing machines is 90C. However, most clothing labels will not recommend washing garments at such a high temperature, and the NHS does not advise washing at this temperature to kill bacteria.

Laundry experts also advise against using fabric softener when washing towels, as it can reduce the absorbency of terry cloth and other fabrics used for towels. Instead, fans of “clean-fluencer” Mrs Hinch swear by white vinegar to keep towels soft and fluffy, and recommend adding a cup of white vinegar to a wash.

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