If your clothing, bedding or towels come out of the washing machine or the tumble dryer with a visible stain or a less than fragrant aroma you know there's a problem, if something looks clean, it's not surprising that you think it is.
The trouble with germs, be they bacteria, viruses or fungal spores is that we can't see them. Out of sight, tends to mean out of mind, so unless someone in your household is actually sick you probably don't stop to consider how well your laundry appliances are killing germs. If some of the research that's been done is accurate, this is a problem/ Because unless you're thinking about hygiene just as much as you consider cleanliness there's every chance that your fresh smelling laundry is still chock full of nasty microbes.
Very large numbers
According to one researcher, a washing machine load of underwear is likely to contain about 100 million E. coli, that's a bacteria that can cause stomach upsets, and it takes a lot less than 100 million of them to make you unwell. You might assume that by the time your wash cycle has finished those bacteria will be dead and harmless to you. Sadly this is far from the truth.
And low temperatures
With the advent of biological detergents it's become usual to wash clothes at much lower temperatures. This is great news for your electricity bill, but not so good for your health. Bio detergents have powerful stain removing action at temperatures of 40 ℃, but unfortunately, this temperature isn't enough to kill off the bugs. Worst than that, studies suggest that germs on one item of clothing will spread to 90% of other clothes in the same wash and that the machine itself can become contaminated so that the bacteria present in one load can spread to the next.
The obvious answer would seem to be to hike up the water temperature in your washing machine, but of course, not all clothes will cope with a hot cycle.
The role of your tumble dryer
If your washing cycle won't kill germs, will putting clothes through the tumble dryer take care of the problem? The answer to this is a qualified yes. Providing you use a hot cycle for about 30 minutes you'll kill most of the germs in a given load of tumble-dried clothing. Drying clothes outdoors in the full sun will also have a similar effect. UV light might be bad for skin but it's great for disinfecting laundry.
A Holistic Approach to Germ Elimination
The simple answer to the question of killing germs is that there's no one simple answer. What's needed is a systematic approach that fights contamination at every stage of the laundry cycle. Here are a few tips from the experts:
- 1. Soak heavily soiled items or anything likely to be germ contaminated with an anti-bacterial pre-soaking agent
- 2. Use gloves when handling laundry likely to be germ contaminated
- 3. Make washing your hands after handling dirty clothes as much a part of your daily routine as washing them after using the toilet
- 4. Use an oxygen bleach on items that will tolerate it
- 5. If someone in the house is unwell, bedding, towels, and anything that's likely to be germ infected should be washed as hot as possible
- 6. Wash suspect bedding, towels, and underwear in a separate load and clean the washing machine after use
- 7. Keep your washing machine clean by running a bleach and water cycle without laundry once a month
- 8. Leave the washing machine door open for a while after removing clothes to make sure it has a chance to dry - germs love warm and damp
- 9. Use a hot tumble dry cycle for at least half an hour, or dry clothes in sunlight to kill germs that have survived the wash cycle
Is it Possible to Get Your Laundry 100% Germ-Free?
Frankly no, but neither is it necessary. The war against germs is a numbers game. If you're in reasonable health, your immune system will kill off a few bacteria or viruses without a problem. By being germ aware and keeping the bacterial and viral load down when you do your laundry you'll reduce the chances of someone in your household getting sick in the first place and minimise the risks of illness spreading if one person does get unwell.