Is Your Dish Towel Making You Sick?

Here are a few steps to make sure it doesn’t.

Published Jan. 5, 2023.

Dish towels see a lot of action in your kitchen—from cleaning your counters to wiping up spilled marinara sauce. You might even use the same dish towel to dry your hands and your dishes.

No harm done, right?

After consulting with our science editor, Paul Adams, we confirmed that it’s actually quite unsanitary. Here’s why.

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We have a lot of bacteria on our hands and under our fingernails. Some are beneficial, and others can make us sick. If you use the same dish towel to dry your hands and your dishes, you can transfer the remaining germs to your dish towel and eventually to your clean dishes.


The risk increases when you use a damp dish towel. Thousands of bacteria live on them, sometimes including salmonella, staph, and E. coli. These bacteria thrive and multiply in wet conditions, leading to upset stomachs and other foodborne illnesses.

Before you throw out (or burn) your dish towels, here are three easy steps to keep them more sanitary.

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1. Color-Code Your Towels

Just as it’s a good idea to have a designated cutting board for meat and for vegetables, your dish towels should be treated the same way. Choose a color or design that distinguishes which towel is for hand drying and which is for dish drying.

2. Wash Your Towels More Frequently

Consistent and thorough washing is the best way to prevent dish towels from becoming breeding grounds for germs. Replace your dish towels every few days and wash them separately from other items. For a deep clean, add our winning laundry stain remover to the load or spray your dish towel with a fabric sanitizer before throwing it in the washer. 

3. Make Sure They’re Completely Dry

After washing, be sure to dry your towel thoroughly before placing it back in your kitchen. After using your dish towel, hang it up so it completely dries (or toss it in the dryer) instead of leaving it in a heap on the counter.

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