When you need to clean and disinfect fabric – either because of mould, mildew, or a recent illness – it’s important to know whether or not your usual laundry routine will be enough. If you’re not using the right germ killing methods, your fresh clothes may actually be even dirtier after you wash them, as the machine inadvertently aids the spread of bacteria from one item to another. So, does laundry detergent kill germs? Or does warm water kill germs? How do you make sure your clothes are as clean as they can be?
Some scientists have suggested that washing machines can become a haven for bacteria, as germs can linger behind after our dirty clothes have been washed. To avoid situations like your kitchen dishcloth spreading bacteria picked up from, (for example) raw chicken, you need to take precautions and use hot water to kill germs, using a suitable detergent to aid your cleaning mission.
How To Limit the Spread of Bacteria in Your Washing Machine
To prevent germs lingering in your washing machine or on your clean clothes, you should clean your washing machine itself.
- Once a week, run an empty cycle with just a cup of bleach or of vinegar. This will disinfect your washer, and prevent germs from hanging out in the drum. You need to do this regularly to keep the machine sanitary.
- To prevent mould spores from growing in your machine, prop the door open after a wash to allow it to air out.
- Regularly wipe down the rubber or plastic ring around the door with an anti-bacterial cleaner.
- Clean out the lint filter at least once every other week.
Another prevention tactic is to sort laundry to avoid cross contamination. Underwear, towels, and face cloths are more likely to contain pathogens – bacteria that cause disease. A load of just underwear will contain about 100 million E.Coli in the wash water, which can cross contaminate the next load of laundry. Avoid washing items such as these in bulk to decrease the amount of bacteria in each wash, and remember to regularly disinfect your machine. Read more about cleaning your washing machine here.
Does Warm Water Kill Germs?
Washing clothes in hot water helps to kill germs – as long as it is hot enough. For bacteria to actually die, the hot water would have to be at a temperature above the level your skin can tolerate, so hand-washing items is not feasible if you want total disinfection. If you do have to hand wash clothes in cold water, clean your hands afterwards with an anti-bacterial liquid soap.
Does Detergent Kill Germs?
Hot water and detergent combined are a great way to tackle lingering bacteria. But it’s important to balance the two to get the best possible wash (very high temperatures can adversely effect the cleaning power of biological detergents), and to be aware of the limitations of your clothing. Washing a woolly jumper at 80 degrees will make it shrink, and other fabrics can melt – so always check the label on your clothing before you wash.
- Using hot water (40 degrees and above) will make many detergents more effective at tackling bacteria-hosting oils and grime. It is also recommended to use oxygen bleach where possible.
- For deep decontamination, you can soak laundry in a mixture of oxygen bleach and water for approximately half and hour before placing in a regular wash. Just be sure to read the label on any laundry product you use to ensure your safety and that of your clothing.
- Finally, when it comes to disinfecting clothes, it’s best to skip using your tumble dryer. One of the most effective tools for eliminating germs is the sun, so put your washing out on the line to dry in the natural sunlight whenever the weather gives you the opportunity.
Before washing your clothes, don’t forget to check the care label, and to follow the instructions accordingly
For more information, check out this article on how to disinfect clothing.