Not so Clean Laundry

Modern laundry trends have created a new breeding ground for germs, according to scientists and public health commentators*. Whilst a move away from the high-temperature washes and harsh detergents of our grandmothers’ era has proved kinder to fabrics, the environment and sensitive skin, research shows potentially harmful bacteria in our laundry is not being taken care of.

Dr Ackerley1 says: “Consumers believe that normal laundering produces ‘clean’ clothes but this does not necessarily translate to ‘hygienically’ clean. The trend towards reducing washing temperatures and water volumes and 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.” Bacteria lurking inside washing machines can also be responsible for cross contamination: “Studies have shown that a build-up of bacteria in the interior of the washing machine transfers to the wash water of subsequent cycles – with as many as 1 million bacteria found in just 2tbsp of wash water. Low-temperature washing provides optimal conditions for germs to breed and multiply in favourite hideaways such as the detergent drawer and door seals,” explains Dr Ackerley.

How to break the Bad Laundry Cycle: Dr Ackerely’s tips:

  • The higher the temperature the better the germ kill. By doing at least one wash at 90°C once a month you will be giving your machine a spring clean and making sure it’s not a reservoir of infection.
  • When washing at lower temperatures, use a laundry disinfectant to help kill bacteria.
  • Wash underpants and socks in a separate wash from face flannels and tea towels, especially if you are using a low-temperature wash.
  • Don’t shut your machine door immediately after a wash. By letting it air, you help to reduce the growth of bacteria inside.




1 Dr Lisa Ackerley is a Chartered Environmental Health Practitioner and co-founder of Hygiene Audit Systems. She is also Visiting Professor of Environmental Health at the University of Salford and last year became Professorial Fellow at the Royal Society of Public Health. Her website contains hygiene advice, articles and a personal blog.