Equipment
People, You Need to Wash Your Oven Mitts
It’s not just about aesthetics. It’s a matter of safety.
Kate Shannon

You wash your chef’s knife and kitchen towels, right? You should wash your oven mitts and pot holders, too. 

Think about it. Although we make an effort to find oven mitts and pot holders that are nimble and dextrous enough for you to avoid putting your thumb into a cookie when you rotate the baking sheet, accidents happen. They might get smeared with tomato sauce and melted cheese when you pull a bubbling pan of lasagna from the oven. Or they might accidentally flop into a pot of soup as you move it off the stovetop.

It’s a matter of aesthetics: Dirty oven mitts and pot holders simply don’t look very good. But that’s not the only reason to clean them. Dirty oven mitts and pot holders are a safety issue, too. 

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In its study of the Germiest Items in the Home, the public health and safety organization NSF International found that most of the top 10 items were located in the kitchen. Although neither oven mitts nor pot holders were among the germiest items, they’re frequently used near three items that do appear on that list: countertops (#8), stove knobs (#9), and cutting boards (#10). In fact, most of us have probably adjusted the knob on a stove (or opened the oven door) while wearing an oven mitt or pot holder, putting it into direct contact with whatever germs happen to be there.  

When we asked Lisa Yakas, Senior Project Manager at NSF International, whether it was necessary to clean your oven mitts and pot holders regularly. She said yes, it’s necessary “to keep your food—and yourself—safe.” There are a few reasons why.

When the exteriors of oven mitts or pot holders become dirty, their performance can deteriorate. If you’ve ever accidentally used a damp kitchen towel to move a hot pot or pan, you know that heat practically races through the towel and to your hand. That’s because the liquid fills up the airspace in the fabric that usually provides an insulating layer between you and the hot cookware. Anything else that fills up that airspace, such as grease or a dried splotch of simple syrup, will decrease the oven mitt’s or pot holder’s insulating power.

There’s also the interiors of oven mitts and pot holders to consider. They come into contact with your bare hands—which you’re then using to touch food and other surfaces around your kitchen. Think about everything we know about the importance of handwashing in preventing the spread of germs and bacteria. Now consider that in most homes, that same set of oven mitts is likely shared by everyone who cooks or bakes there. 

Are you convinced yet? 

Before you jump up and toss your oven mitts and pot holders into the wash, one more word of advice: Check the laundering instructions. (There’s likely a tag sewn into the lining but you can find the instructions online if yours doesn’t have a tag or if you cut it out.) Some manufacturers recommend laundering their models on the top rack of the dishwasher instead of in the washing machine. Most also caution against using the dryer and suggest laying their oven mitts or pot holders flat to dry instead. To speed up the drying process, gently squeeze or wring out as much water as possible. 

Photo: YinYang, lleerogers, Getty Images

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