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How often should you wash bath towels? It depends

If towel washing is a debate in your house, here's some guidance.

towels

Keep your towels clean to prevent the spread of bacteria. 

Alina Bradford/CNET

Just about every family seems to include one person who thinks you can go weeks without switching out a bath towel for a clean one. The yin to their yang is the person who says you need a fresh towel for every person, every day. Who's right? Neither, actually.

Why is proper washing important?

Towels get moist when you dry off with them. The porous, damp environment is the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. A common bath towel can have yeast, mold and E. coli. growing on it, without you ever knowing it. Gross, right? Regular washing prevents bacteria from growing.

Reuse or wash?

There are some variables when it comes to how often you should wash your towels. Consumer Reports says that under normal circumstances, a towel can be used three or four times before it needs to be tossed in the hamper. Now notice, I said "times" not "days." So if you have multiple family members using a towel, then on the third or fourth use it needs to be washed. This goes for hand towels, too.

Also, the condition of the person using the towel matters, too. If they're sick, toss it in the laundry after one use. If it's flu season, it's best that every family member have their own towel -- even if they aren't exhibiting symptoms -- to prevent the potential spread of germs. 

How often you wash towels also depends on how they're dried after usage. If towels find themselves on the floor, the lack of air circulation will cause bacteria to grow quickly. To prolong the life of your towel, be sure to place damp towels on a towel rack. Better yet, crack open a window or turn on the fan to reduce moisture in the room.

What temp wash?

The Infection Control department of Mid-Western Regional Hospital of Ennis, Ireland recommends washing towels in water that is at least 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius) or more to kill bacteria. So, if you have a sanitize mode on your washing machine, use it. If not, you may consider raising the temperature on your water heater while washing that load. Be sure young children are supervised around sinks, tubs and showers while you do laundry, though, to prevent burns.

And, before you reach for the fabric softener, don't. Fabric softener leaves residue on towels that makes them less absorbent. 

Read moreTips for washing your towels to make them softer 

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