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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.
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.
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.