How Bad Is It Really to Rarely Wash Your Washcloth?

You should probably be cleaning your washcloth more often than you currently are.

It's easy enough to wring out the fun-sized towel you use to lather up your favorite body wash or face scrub and hang it up in the shower for next time. But while your washcloth waits for another turn, it could be building up bacteria that puts a halt on your hygiene, says Danilo Del Campo, MD, a dermatologist at Chicago Skin Clinic.

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Just like a regular towel, washcloths are usually made of cotton and have a quick-drying, absorbent effect. That means even though it might be easy to skip a regular wash, it's important to clean washcloths frequently. Here's what happens if you use the same washcloth for too long.

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1. It Accumulates Dead Skin

Every time we use a washcloth, we're not only scrubbing away dirt and oil from the day, but washing off old skin cells, too, Dr. Del Campo says.

"The combination of moisture, heat and humidity can be a recipe for creating unwanted growth on our towels that we would simply be reapplying onto our skin," he says.

On top of that, there's bacteria and microorganisms that naturally live on our skin. "They form part of our natural microbiome of our skin," Dr. Del Campo says. "We would not want to disrupt this normal microbiome and grow lots of unwanted microorganisms."

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2. It Can Cause Skin Irritation

As more dirt, oil and bacteria accumulate on your washcloth, the chances of it causing skin irritation increase. This is especially true for people with sensitive skin or those living with skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis. Sound familiar? Dr. Del Campo suggests swapping out your washcloth daily in that case.

3. It Can Lead to Infection

Accidents happen, and sometimes we get into the shower with cuts and open wounds. Using an old washcloth could worsen any irritations or lacerations, no matter how small.

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"If there is any trauma or wounds, this can be an entry point for infections," Dr. Del Campo says. A minor infection can turn into a more serious condition like a staph infection, per the Mayo Clinic. This can be avoided by frequently washing washcloths and using a clean one daily.

4. It Could Cause An Allergic Reaction

Allowing bacteria to fester on a washcloth can lead to mold growth, a common substance that causes indoor allergies, per the Cleveland Clinic. Symptoms of an allergic reaction include a stuffy and itchy nose, rash, headache, watery eyes, sneezing and fatigue. Spare yourself the trouble and toss your washcloth in the laundry.

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How to Use a Washcloth Safely

Before you worry too much: You can still use a washcloth to shower daily, but you may want to consider these tips from Dr. Del Campo:

  • Change out washcloths daily‌: Consider having a few spare washcloths so you don't have to do laundry too frequently.
  • Wash washcloths regularly‌: Clean your washcloths (and your towels and sheets, for that matter) at least once a week. "Be sure to wash clothing and towels with hypoallergenic soaps that are free of fragrances," Dr. Del Campo adds.
  • Try 100 percent cotton washcloths‌: Cotton will be gentle on sensitive skin. And if you use white towels and washcloths, they'll easily show any dirt you'd want to clean ASAP. (Microfiber washcloths are another gentle option that dry quickly, too.)
  • Dry them thoroughly:‌ If you are going to reuse a washcloth, make sure it dries completely between uses. Hang it up outside of the shower to make sure it doesn't stay damp.

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