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8 ways to keep kitchen towels and dishcloths sanitary

8 ways to keep kitchen linens sanitary

In my post on setting a grocery budget, I mentioned that I use very few paper towels, and I got a question from a reader who was wondering how to keep towels and dishcloths sanitary.

He also wondered if this creates a lot of laundry.

How to keep towels and dishcloths sanitary

My family and I haven’t experienced any negative health problems despite the rampant dishcloth/kitchen towel usage at our house, so I feel quite sure what we are doing is safe.

Bu then again, there are some important things that I do to keep our kitchen linens from getting disgusting.

So, I thought I’d share them here because I feel like paper towels are one of the easiest disposable paper products to avoid.

(Toilet paper, not so much. I plan to buy toilet paper for the rest of my life. TOILETPAPER4EVER!!)

1. Never let towels/dishcloths stay wet.

Hang them up somewhere to let them dry overnight.  A balled-up wet dishrag sitting by your faucet is going to become a bacteria factory overnight and it will have the smell to prove it.



And never, ever put a wet towel into a pile of laundry on your laundry room floor or into your hamper.  Always let them dry thoroughly first, unless you’re washing them right that minute.

I let all my towels and dishcloths dry overnight (hanging on the oven handle, the freezer handle, etc.)

2. Never use towels/washcloths more than one day.

Every single morning, I throw yesterday’s dry towels and washcloths into the laundry room, where they wait for the next load of laundry they can join.

3. Always use a fresh towel to dry clean dishes.

Towels used for other purposes won’t be completely clean, and you’d like to keep your freshly-washed dishes clean!

4. If your towels/dishcloths touch raw meat, don’t use them again until they’re washed.

This can cause cross-contamination, so don’t use them for anything else until you’ve washed and dried them.

Rinse them, hang them and let them dry, and then wash them. Or wash them right away, if you happen to be doing laundry.

5. Use the dryer or the sunshine.

I don’t use the hot water cycle when I’m washing towels; the reading I’ve done has said that a half hour of high heat in the dryer is much more effective at killing viruses and such than hot water is, as most homes do not have water hot enough to actually kill germs.

Another option is to dry your towels and dishcloths in the sunlight, but of course, that’s not a helpful tip on a cloudy day!

6. Boil your dishcloths/towels occasionally.

A ten minute bath in boiling water on your stove top (here’s a post I wrote about that) will sanitize them and remove any stubborn odors.

This is particularly helpful for dishcloths, which are more prone to smelly funk than towels, in my experience.

7. Wash them with bleach or vinegar.

I don’t love using bleach, but if you need a little extra reassurance that your kitchen linens are clean, you can occasionally add some bleach when you wash them.

calico critter washing machine

This will discolor items that aren’t white, though, so be forewarned.  I much prefer to use the boiling method mentioned above!

Also: I haven’t tried it myself, but another option is to add a cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle. Vinegar is safe enough to use every time you wash.

8. Use paper towels sometimes.

If you need to soak up grease, paper towels are your friend. And if you need to blot moisture off of raw meat before cooking, paper towels are perfect for the job.

You don’t need to be all-or-nothing when it comes to paper towels, and using paper towels for these especially greasy/germy purposes will help to keep your reusable kitchen linens in better shape.


A little side note: People often ask me if kitchen towels/dishcloths create a lot of laundry, and honestly, I don’t feel like they do. 

I just put the (dried overnight) linens on my laundry room floor and then throw them into the washing machine when I do the next light-colored load.

The laundry effort required really is minimal.


Fellow fans of kitchen linens, I’d love to hear your tips for keeping yours clean and safe!

P.S. Need some kitchen linens to get started? I have these organic 100% cotton dishcloths, which have held up very well for me. These non-organic ones are more affordable but still 100% cotton.

I like Ikea’s super cheap $0.79 tea towels (white with the red stripe in the photos above). For a fuzzier towel option, these terry ones are very absorbent, although sometimes the stitching on mine comes loose.

The gray towels in the photo are these ones, which are rather pricey (the set of six is a much better deal than the set of two, however!). They do hold up well, they come in tons of colors, and they will pay for themselves when used in place of paper towels.

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Friday 24th of November 2023

I do vinegar in my kitchen linens monthly, as I wash them weekly (unless family visits and then it is 2x/week). I line dry in the sun when it is available. I haven’t noticed it creating more laundry. But I also like laundry so it wouldn’t bother me. We currently live in base housing so electricity/water is covered in our rent.


Saturday 4th of December 2021

I am really messy with my kitchen towels. I read your article and trying to follow that. My question is, what is the use of dish cloth. I do not know. Also how many towels should be there in a kitchen in a day. I use one for wiping the hands, one for cleaning the counter top, one on the fridge handle, one on dishwasher handle, and end of the day, I use all towels for everything. Please guide


Saturday 4th of December 2021

Ohh, I use a dishcloth for anything messy, like wiping things down. Towels, I just use for drying things that are already clean, such as dishes or hands. That way my towels stay pretty nice, but my dishcloths are the ones that get stained.


Monday 16th of November 2020

Love this. I agree the kitchen is constantly getting dirty in our home. Its like picking up the pins, but then they get knocked down again. I need to start putting away as I go. I try to do this now when I cook instead of waiting until the end. Thanks for all your tips!


Thursday 8th of October 2020

I have been sanitizing my napkins washcloths and towels but I see that my cloth napkins are breaking up and not lasting very long. So I will start watching them on warm and I use peroxide as disinfectant used 2 cups


Wednesday 30th of September 2020

We rarely use bleach, only if one of us has been ill in bed or something is stained such that only bleach will do. Instead we use an oxygen bleach like Oxyclean to disinfect and brighten linens and towels. It can slightly fade colors but it works well to remove stains. My mother gave me some old pillowcases that belonged to my grandma and the second time I washed them some knucklehead in my building left something in either the washer or dryer that left a light brown slightly waxy coating on them. I was so ticked off but decided to soak them, and the white sheets that were affected too, in an oxygen bleach solution for a few days. I had to scrub a few spots by hand, and the colors faded a bit, but that made them more charmingly vintage looking. The fabric itself was fine, whereas regular bleach would have eaten through it.

We launder our kitchen towels and cloth napkins at least once a week, or sooner if they get stained. They don't get smelly. We use sponges instead of dishcloths and squeeze them as dry as we can and set them in a little wire rack to dry out between uses. Every few days I microwave them. I'm considering switching to compostable dish brushes once all our sponges are used up, as long as the hubby agrees as he usually does the dishes. It's best to keep a willing dishwasher happy!

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