How Often Should You Wash Your (Germ Magnet of a) Bath Towel?

Don’t wipe away your clean with a dirty towel

Mother drying her child with towel

There’s nothing like a good bath or shower. You lather up, rinse off and step out feeling clean, refreshed and energized. Then you grab a towel — and all of that healthy hygiene may go right out the window. Let’s see now, when’s the last time you washed that towel anyway?

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Yes, your towels need pampering too. When you think about it, they have a rough life.

“The longer towels stay damp, the longer the yeasts, bacteria, molds and viruses remain alive and stay active,” explains dermatologist Alok Vij, MD.

“They can cause an outbreak of toenail fungus, athlete’s foot, jock itch and warts, or cause these skin conditions to spread,” he says. “And dirty towels can certainly cause a flare-up of eczema or atopic dermatitis.”

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Well then! Put down that germ haven. Here, Dr. Vij offers some helpful tips for adopting healthier towel tactics:

  1. As a general rule, launder your bath towel (or swap in a clean one) at least once a week and your washcloth a couple times a week.
  2. Wash towels more frequently if you’re sick to avoid reinfection. Also launder more than weekly if the humidity in your house is high — particularly during summer months, if you don’t have air conditioning.   
  3. Yes, you can share towels with a spouse or partner (you share bed sheets, after all) as long as neither of you has a skin condition such as warts or eczema, or is sick. However, children typically (let’s be honest!) have poor hand hygiene and are more likely to have eczema. So it’s best to give them their own towels. As for washcloths, it’s every man, woman and child for him or herself — meaning don’t share, Dr. Vij advises.
  4. As we’ve established, damp towels are a breeding ground for germs. So hang your wet towel spread out on a towel bar (rather than from a hook) so it can dry thoroughly between uses.
  5. If you shower at the gym and your damp towel sits in your gym bag for hours afterward, use a clean towel daily. “Workout towels get pretty disgusting — they’re stinky and smelly and full of bacteria,” Dr. Vij says.

One final towel tip before you shop

Now that you realize you need to pay more attention to your towels, maybe you need to go shopping? That way you’ll always have a clean one within reach.

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As far as fabric choice goes, plush towels with a high thread count are fine (and they feel so good on your skin) but keep in mind these towels take longer to dry.

“Microfiber towels dry faster than cotton, so they’re better for the gym,” Dr. Vij advises.

And, yes, always make sure your towel passes the smell test. A stinky whiff? Time for a fresh towel.

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