12 INVESTIGATES: Towel germs

Published: Aug. 8, 2012 at 9:15 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - We know the world is full of germs, but we don't like it when they invade our homes. A world-renowned germ expert said he's found millions of potentially disease-causing microbes in one of the most private rooms in the house. It's not the toilet, not the bath. It's what's hanging on the rack - it's your hand towel.

"We thought towels were very dry, there wouldn't be a lot of bacteria. We thought we'd have a hard time finding them, but they were jumping out at us actually there were so many in there," said microbiologist Dr. Charles Gerba. He's always looking for where germs are hiding and his new study shows, once again, they're where we would least expect.

"So, just think about it. You wash your hands and you dry it in the towel and then maybe you had some e-coli or salmonella on there and they get into the towel. It's wet. It's moist. They grow. You may start out with a few, but in a few days you've got millions is what we found out," said Gerba.

What kinds of germs? Gerba said he tested 500 towels from across the United States and Canada.

"Actually, they're loaded with fecal bacteria. E-coli are very common in high numbers. And in some towels, we even found salmonella bacteria," said Gerba. "So really, every time you think you're wiping your face off, you're putting your face in a towel full of e-coli - you might as well stick your head in a toilet and flush it."

If that's not bad enough, Gerba tested brand new towels thinking to use them as a control group. It didn't work. He found fecal bacteria there too.

"Brand new towels. Yeah, that we got at the store. That's what we did and we found them in there. We were surprised. Apparently, even when they wash them and dry them after manufacture, they still get coliform bacteria in them," said Gerba.

So, Dr. Gerba said we might want to look at changing our habits, maybe even using paper towels in the bathroom. But if you do prefer cloth towels, he recommends washing them in very hot water and using bleach or a bleach substitute. He found hot water and detergent are not enough. He also said you should change the towels more frequently.

"What we've learned is you probably should change them on a regular basis - maybe every two or three days. You let them go a week and there's large numbers, millions of bacteria inside of that towel," said Gerba.

Copyright 2012 WWBT NBC12.  All rights reserved.