Your washing might smell fresh but don’t be lulled into a false sense of cleanliness. The move away from the high-temperature washes and harsh detergents of our grandmothers’ era may be kinder to fabrics, the environment and sensitive skin but it could costing us our health.
Research has shown that potentially harmful bacteria in our laundry is not being killed off in low-temperature washes, turning the average spin cycle into a breeding ground for germs.
The levels of bacteria found by microbiologists in our washing machines and on supposedly ‘clean’ laundered clothes has led leading hygiene expert, Dr Lisa Ackerley, to call for an increased awareness of what is being termed the ‘Sick Laundry Cycle’.
Dr Ackerley said: ‘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 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.’ The Sick Laundry Cycle isn’t just about the inadequate removal of bacteria from contaminated clothes.
Cross-contamination also plays a part. ‘If you put something ridden with bacteria in the washing machine you will simply be swishing the germs around – creating a ‘bacterial soup’ – unless you do something to kill them. 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 one million bacteria found in just two tablespoons 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, explained Dr Ackerley. In particular, the Sick Laundry Cycle is a problem if someone in the house is ill.
Segregating clothes, bedding and towels infected by a bout of sickness from the rest of the household laundry isn’t enough to stop the risk of spreading infection if you are handling items washed at low temperatures.