Researchers tested 100 kitchen towels that had been used for one month and found that half of them harbored bacteria. Of those dirty cloths, 37 percent were contaminated with E. coli and 14 percent with Staphylococcus aureus (staph). The scientists presented their findings at the American Society for Microbiology’s annual meeting.
Towels used for multiple purposes—like cleaning up spills, wiping off hands, and drying utensils—were dirtier than those that had just one designated job, says study author Susheela Biranjia-Hurdoyal, Ph.D., senior lecturer in the department of health sciences at the University of Mauritius in Moka, Mauritius.
E. coli and S. aureus, which can cause food poisoning, were more likely to cling to dishcloths in kitchens where meat was present than in vegetarian homes. The bacteria also gravitated toward moist towels.
To nix bacterial growth or at least cut it down, use each towel for one task and wash them if you notice they're damp. Biranjia-Hurdoyal recommends swapping used towels for fresh ones every day if you regularly eat meat and every two days if you're vegetarian.