Is your laundry making you sick?

By Mariam Digges

Is your laundry making you sick?
Prefer a cold machine wash to a hot one? You could be putting your family at risk of disease.

Prefer a cold machine wash to a hot one? Scientists warn that potentially harmful bacteria could be surviving cold washes, turning your spin cycle into a breeding ground for germs.

The tomato sauce stains might have disappeared, and they may smell fresh, but you may not have adequately rid your clothes and towels of harmful germs during that last wash cycle.

Gone are the old fashioned days of washing clothes in 100C water. But scientists believe that some of today’s popular gentle washes are creating a ‘bacteria soup’ where contagious bugs such as E.coli and Salmonella are being spread.

Hygiene expert Dr Lisa Ackerley has called for a heightened awareness of what is being named the ‘Sick Laundry Cycle.’

“Consumers believe that normal laundering produces ‘clean’ clothes but this does not necessarily translate to ‘hygienically’ clean,” said Dr Ackerley.

Scientists observed as many as one million bacteria in just two tablespoons of cold wash water. Some estimates have found 100 million E.coli bacteria in the average washing machine load at any one time.

“The trend towards reducing washing temperatures and water volumes alongside using gentler detergents has affected the efficacy of the laundering process for reducing bacteria on contaminated clothing. It’s time to re-evaluate the hygiene of our laundry.”

The Sick Laundry Cycle doesn’t just refer to the unsuccessful removal of bacteria from clothes; it also raises concerns about cross-contamination between underwear and kitchen textiles, such as tea towels and napkins.

As Dr Ackerley explains, “low-temperature washing provides optimal conditions for germs to breed and multiply in favourite hideaways such as the detergent drawer and door seals.”

Her concerns are supported by German study on clothes contaminated with Staphylococcus aureus, which has been previously inked to skin and urinary tract infections, as well as pneumonia.

Segregating clothes from bedding and towels is your safest way to avoid cross contamination and spreading bacteria. While a cold wash is fine for some outer garments, a hot wash in water above 60C is recommended for bedding, underwear, and textiles that come in close contact with skin.


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