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When Sharing Isn't Caring

Is Sharing Towels Sanitary?

The short answer to this question is no. It may seem harmless, but a towel can harbor lots of bacteria that grows in a damp, warm bathroom environment. If you share a towel with someone who has an infection caused by bacteria, you’ll be exposed to those invisible pathogens, which puts you at risk for getting the same infection. In some cases, you can get sick from the bacteria, even if your towel-sharing partner isn’t affected by it.

The human body is covered in germs, even after bathing. Those invisible particles come off of your body as you dry yourself, and cling to the towel until someone else touches it. When you think about it, it’s clear to see that sharing towels is not a sanitary practice.

On top of being unsanitary, sharing towels also opens you up to new potential illnesses or conditions. Your body is used to its own germs, and they are generally harmless to you unless you have a medical condition or illness. However, drying off with someone else’s towel puts you in contact with new germs that your body isn’t used to handling. As a result, you may get sick.

Why Towels are Particularly Susceptible to Bacteria

Your plush bath towels are perfect for soaking up every last drop of water from your skin, but that moisture doesn’t just disappear. Highly absorbent towels that let you dry off quickly retain moisture for quite some time, especially in damp bathrooms – and they take even longer to dry if you toss them on the floor instead of hanging them. This provides a perfect environment for bacteria to thrive and grow. If you shower frequently and use the same towel, that towel may never fully dry, which means it’s constantly a bacterial breeding ground.

Towels need to fully dry to prevent bacterial growth.

Germs aren’t the only thing that can grow in the damp towel, either. Mildew is also a possibility. If multiple people use the same towel, it has even less time to dry between uses, which propagates that ideal environment for microbe growth. Add to that the damp environment of the bathroom itself, and a shared towel has little hope of drying.

What You Can Spread With a Towel

A bath towel seems harmless. After all, you clean your body immediately before using it. However, your body can still carry lots of bacteria, fungi and other invisible microbes. Because those tiny particles can live in the towel, they can spread to the next person who uses it, causing skin infections and issues. Bacteria can enter the body through cuts, sores and open wounds, which can potentially lead to additional illnesses.

The type of bacteria that causes staph infections thrives in towels. This is one of the more potentially serious results of sharing them. If the bacteria enter an open wound on your body, you can face an infection that is often resistant to antibiotics.

Towels may also spread bacteria that causes acne. While not as serious as a staph infection, this is a skin issue that few people want to deal with, and can be avoided by not sharing towels.

Fungi can also survive in wet towels, including the type that causes tinea cruris, or jock itch. Athlete’s foot is another fungal infection that can potentially be spread through shared towels.

Pink eye also spreads through towels, since the fabric comes into contact with the face. Towels may also contain coliforms, which are bacteria associated with fecal matter, and E. coli bacteria, which can cause food poisoning and urinary tract infections.

Other Reasons to Avoid Sharing Towels

Beyond the potential health risks, there are a few other reasons not to share towels. One of them becomes clear if you think about your own drying routine. You likely dry off every inch of your body, and so do the other people who may use your towel. You have no way of knowing which parts of the towel they used for each body part. This is a thought that makes most people uncomfortable and is often enough to warrant using separate towels.

Rubbing a towel against your skin can also release dead skin cells and hairs. Even if they don’t make you sick, you most likely do not want those particles touching your skin, especially after cleaning off in the shower. This is just one more reason you shouldn’t share towels with anyone, even your closest family members.

Minimizing Germs

Not sharing towels is the easiest way to prevent spreading germs, but there are other ways to reduce the growth of germs. Bathrooms are full of germs, so it’s impossible to eliminate all microbes. Still, making a few small changes to your bathroom routine can reduce your chance of sharing infections with your family or contaminating your own towel with bacteria.

Use these methods to prevent germs:

  • Help towels dry: instead of throwing your towel in a ball, spread it out to allow the fabric to dry faster. A towel bar works well for thoroughly drying towels between uses. By allowing towels to dry fully, you create a less hospitable environment for the bacteria that come into contact with the fabric, and you minimize the risk of mildew growth.

 

  • Wash towels often :Reusing your towels a few times is good for the environment, but you don’t want to wait too long before laundering your towels. One study showed that microorganisms in towels almost doubled every seven days of use. Washing your towel after every three washes is a good rule of thumb, but you should wash the towel sooner if you notice a funky smell. When a towel starts stinking, it is likely growing mildew or bacteria. Stocking up on extra towels makes it easy to change out your towels often.

 

  • Use hot water: When you wash your towels, turn up the heat setting on your washing machine. Washing towels in warm or hot water helps kill the germs left in the material and minimizes the risk of spreading bacteria the next time you use the towels. Keep your loads of towels small, so they can get fully clean and dry. Washing towels separately is also a good idea because it prevents the germs from spreading to clothing.

 

  • Never share: We have already made it clear that sharing towels is not a good idea, but it bears repeating. Never share a bath towel with other people, including your own family members. It’s not only unsanitary, but can also expose you to various germs and potential diseases or health conditions.

 

  • Change hand towels frequently: Hand towels can also harbor bacteria, so it’s important to change them frequently. Several people tend to use the same hand towels, which can increase the amount of bacteria on the fabric. Put out a fresh hand towel daily, especially in busy bathrooms.

 

Other Bathroom Items You Shouldn’t Share

Towels aren’t the only things that are better kept to yourself. Many common bathroom items can harbor bacteria, meaning you should have your own rather than sharing. Grooming tools come into contact with skin, hair and sometimes blood or other bodily fluids, all of which can spread various diseases and bacteria. Here are a few additional items that you shouldn’t share.

Microorganisms in your mouth can transfer to your toothbrush.

Toothbrush: This one should be obvious, but sharing a toothbrush opens you up to also sharing lots of germs. Your mouth contains hundreds of different microorganisms, which can easily transfer to the bristles of the toothbrush. Some of those germs can continue growing in the toothbrush because the bristles often stay moist.

When you use someone else’s toothbrush, you let those germs into your mouth. This can cause infections, particularly if you have a compromised immune system. Those germs may not cause an issue in the other person, but your body may have difficulty fighting them.

You can minimize bacterial growth in your toothbrush and avoid getting sick with proper care. Avoid covering your toothbrush with a cover, as the closed environment keeps the bristles wet and increases the growth of microorganisms. You should also replace your toothbrush every three to four months.

Bar soap: Soap gets you clean, but the bar doesn’t necessarily stay clean. Bacteria can stay on the soap, especially on the bottom or other areas where the bar stays wet. If another person rubs the bar directly on their body, hair and germs touch the soap. You then rub those contaminants onto your body or washcloth the next time you shower. Using liquid soap can prevent that bacterial growth, but if you prefer bars, use your own instead of sharing with other family members.

Along the same lines, it’s also a bad idea to share loofahs in the shower. The mesh material can harbor bacteria, and the poof doesn’t ever fully dry, which lets those germs continue to grow.

Deodorant: Sharing an item that touches underarms may be an uncomfortable thought for many people, and it can also spread germs. Roll-on deodorant, in particular, can cross-contaminate your underarms with bacteria from other users because it’s sticky. Stick deodorant may also transfer hair and skin cells.

Razors: Sharing razors is a potentially dangerous practice. Razors scrape across the skin, which can collect dead skin cells and bacteria from its surface. The next person who uses the razor rubs that bacteria on their skin even if the skin isn’t open, which can cause issues. Cuts present even more of a risk with razor use. Even small nicks with a razor blade can result in blood on the blade, meaning that the next person who uses the razor is exposed to anything in the blood. Open wounds provide a direct route into the body, allowing bacteria to infiltrate your system. Blood-borne illnesses, including HIV and hepatitis, can also be transmitted through these open wounds.

Don't share hair care tools like combs and brushes.

Combs and brushes: Skip community hair care tools, particularly combs and brushes. They may seem innocent enough, but they can harbor germs and diseases like scabies and head lice. In some cases, staph infections can even spread through a comb or brush. You can avoid this by buying everyone in your household a separate comb or brush in a different color. This color-coding system makes it easy for everyone to identify their hair care tools, so you don’t end up sharing accidentally. You can also wash your combs and brushes periodically by soaking them in a solution of warm water and antibacterial soap. Cleaning them every two weeks can go a long way in preventing bacteria and other issues.

Nail clippers: Germs and other contaminants left on nail clippers can spread fungus, warts and other unpleasant conditions. If you use clippers after someone with a foot fungus or warts, you may find yourself dealing with the same condition. While you can clean the clippers with alcohol after each use, your best bet is simply to have your own pair.

Tweezers: While they seem safe enough to share, tweezers may be home to potentially dangerous microbes. This is especially true if you use your tweezers to dig for something under the skin, like a deep splinter or ingrown hair. These uses can put the tweezers into contact with blood, which leads to the potential for transmitting blood-borne illnesses.

Beauty products in a jar: Creams, lotions and other beauty products that come in a jar have a high risk of contamination. Every time someone uses the cream, they put their finger into the product. Any germs or bacteria on the skin go into the container. Then, the next user can get those germs and bacteria on their skin.

Get Your Own Towels

Sharing towels isn’t worth risking all of the sanitary and health concerns it involves. If you don’t have your own set of towels, or someone else uses your towels, it’s worth the investment to get a personal set.

Towel Super Center offers a wide range of bath towels to stock your linen closet. Choose different hues to color-code your towel collection easily. With so many options, Towel Super Center makes it easy to stay sanitary and avoid spreading harmful germs and bacteria.

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