Most of us know the first step to reducing bacteria in the kitchen is to keep your hands and all surfaces and utensils that come into contact with food clean.  But what about the tools that you use to keep those surfaces clean?

Even cleaning tools themselves need to be cleaned! Keep reading to learn effective ways to clean your kitchen dishcloths and when you shouldn’t even use them at all.

kitchen with cherry cabinets and creamy white walls

I don’t think it’s any surprise that I spend a lot of time in our kitchen and a clean and healthy kitchen is important to me. I like to start with a clean kitchen before working (recipe development) and prepping for meals.

After I’ve wiped the counter down from preparing raw chicken, I don’t want to use that same dishcloth again to wipe off our kitchen table.  That is just asking for food-borne illness.  And when my husband grabs a kitchen towel to wipe a spill off the floor, I don’t want to use it again to dry my hands. 

using a paper towel to clean germ filled messes in the kitchen

Kitchen dishcloths are one of the largest sources of bacteria in the home – in fact, a study from the University of Arizona found that out of 82 random kitchen hand towels collected across the U.S. and Canada, coliform bacteria (aka fecal contamination) was present in nearly 9 out of 10, and E. coli was present in 1 in 4.

Wouldn’t you want to know what’s lurking in your kitchen dishcloth?

To uncover the truth behind dishcloth hygiene, I was asked to reveal how dirty my everyday kitchen dishcloth can get.

I used a brand new dishcloth for four days straight in my kitchen, then sent it off to be analyzed in the University of Arizona lab to assess the levels of bacteria.

testing a kitchen dishcloth for bacteria in a lab

What Forms of Bacteria Were Tested In My Dishcloth

  • Total coliforms – Largely indicative of overall cleanliness. general bacteria.
  • Fecal coliforms – Indicative of fecal contamination. 
  • Staphylococcus aureus – Bacteria that can lead to a range of skin and respiratory infections, and food poisoning
  • HPC Bacteria – Bacteria that take the sugars they need to survive and reproduce from their environment – i.e. yeasts, molds, etc.

It turns out, my dishcloth tested positive most of these bacteria. What’s even more shocking, is that the amount of S. aureus bacteria detected was at the higher end of the range that’s been reported in previously studied used kitchen dishcloths! As much as I try to be careful, by always rinsing my dishcloths with hot tap water, plenty of bacteria was still found in my dishcloth.

So what constitutes the proper care of dishcloths and kitchen towels? Here are a few suggestions to keep your dishcloths from becoming germ magnets.

rinsing and drying dishcloth to reduce bacteria


How To Keep Dishcloths, And Towels Clean

A damp dishcloth can serve as a breeding ground for germs, especially if left crumpled up to dry. Using it again before properly cleaning means germs can spread to other surfaces in the kitchen. Dishcloths should be rinsed (preferably in hot water) and hung or laid out flat after every use to avoid the warm, damp surfaces for bacteria to grow.

Ideally, we should wash dishcloths every two days using the hot cycle on your washing machine. If you’ve used a dishcloth to wipe up after ‘higher risk’ food residues (raw meat/poultry/fish, raw vegetables) then you should replace it immediately with a clean one.  Better yet, use paper towels to clean up spills, especially juices from raw meat, poultry, and seafood. Then immediately dispose of the paper towels.

If there’s a noticeable smell from your dishcloth, then it’s definitely time to change it.

use paper towels to clean up the germ-filled jobs in the kitchen

Use Paper Towels For the Dirty Work

It takes a lot of time and effort to maintain a clean kitchen. When it comes to kitchen messes, it’s best to reach for paper towels in order to avoid bacteria cross-contamination.

Examples include:

  • raw eggs 
  • raw meat/poultry/seafood
  • refrigerator cleaning
  • oils and grease spills
  • wiping/drying off hands after handling raw meat and eggs
  • spills and messes on the kitchen floor
  • cleaning pet food bowls
  • wiping out the kitchen sink

TIP: If you use your paper towels non-chemical spills, you can put them in your compost bin

use a paper towel to clean the sink to reduce cross contamination of germs in the kitchen

The Kitchen Sink

That raw meat juice that you wash off your cutting board and knife while fixing dinner travels down the sink drain and into the disposal.

So it’s a great idea to sanitize your sink, drain, and disposal as often as possible using a diluted bleach solution of one teaspoon bleach to one quart of hot water. I like to spray the sink with an all-purpose cleaner with bleach and wipe it down with a paper towel before going to bed each night.

use dishcloth for washing dishes

Dishcloths can harbor germs no matter how often you clean them. In order to help decrease risks of cross-contamination in the kitchen, be sure to use paper towels for the “germ-filled” jobs.

How often do you change your dish towels and cloths?  What other kitchen tasks do you use paper towels for?


This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Bounty Paper Towels. The opinions and text and love of a clean home are all mine.