Research finds washing clothes in cold water can breed bacteria
By Jenny Wang, Special to The China PostTAIPEI, Taiwan -- The use of front loading washers, gentle laundry detergent and low-temperature washes turn the average spin cycle into a breeding ground for germs instead of killing potentially harmful bacteria, a new study shows.
August 26, 2013, 11:12 am TWN
A microbial assessment to evaluate the infection risks associated with laundry found an estimated average of 0.1 grams of fecal matter remains on every pair of “clean” underpants. According to the UK's Daily Mail, low-temperature washes are not strong enough to kill potentially contagious germs including salmonella, E. coli and norovirus.
Lisa Ackerley, a leading hygiene expert, called for an increased awareness of what is being termed the “Sick Laundry Cycle” due to the levels of bacteria found by microbiologists in washing machines and on supposedly “clean” laundered clothes.
“Consumers believe that normal laundering produces 'clean' clothes, but this does not necessarily translate to 'hygienically' clean,” said Ackerley.
The “Sick Laundry Cycle” isn't just about the inadequate removal of bacteria from contaminated clothes; cross-contamination also plays a part, according to Ackerley.
“If you put something ridden with bacteria in the washing machine, you will simply be swishing the germs around — creating a 'bacterial soup,'” added Ackerley.
Items that are most likely to be contaminated with pathogens are those which have direct contact with the body, such as underwear, towels, facecloths, handkerchiefs and bed linens, Ackerley said. 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 one million bacteria found in just two tablespoons of wash water.
Low-temperature washing provides optimal conditions for germs to breed and multiply in possible hideaways such as the detergent drawer and door seals, Ackerley explained. The trend toward 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, added Ackerley.