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Cooler washing machine cycles don’t kill harmful bacteria, health report warns

Extra.ie logo Extra.ie 12/10/2019 Scheenagh Harrington
a woman standing in front of a window © Provided by Associated Newspapers (Ireland) Limited, t/a dmg Media Ireland

Washing our clothes in an everyday machine at lower temperatures might be good for the environment, but it’s not so great for our health. These efficient but short wash cycles don’t do enough to kill harmful bacteria lingering on fabrics, according to a study by US health experts, potentially posing problems for susceptible people, such as the elderly or newborns.

a person driving a car: harmful bacteria © Provided by Associated Newspapers (Ireland) Limited, t/a dmg Media Ireland harmful bacteria They said while some bacteria are harmless and can actually be good for us, others, including E. coli, salmonella and Klebsiella oxytoca can gather in the washer seal, and then spread during the cooler rinse cycles. Where you store your machine could also be an issue. A humid garage or shed is the ideal place for bacteria to grow and thrive, the researchers said.

a woman holding a baby in a basket: harmful bacteria © Provided by Associated Newspapers (Ireland) Limited, t/a dmg Media Ireland harmful bacteria The warning followed the discovery of a multi-drug-resistant pathogen on infants’ clothing at a German children’s hospital, where a consumer-grade washing machine was being used, rather than an industrial device.

harmful bacteria © Provided by Associated Newspapers (Ireland) Limited, t/a dmg Media Ireland harmful bacteria The researchers said the incident also highlighted the challenge of maintaining good quality hygiene standards when growing numbers of elderly people were cared for by family members, who opted for energy-efficient washing machines.

a person posing for the camera: Washing Machine Bacteria © Provided by Associated Newspapers (Ireland) Limited, t/a dmg Media Ireland Washing Machine Bacteria Luckily, you don’t have to fork out for an industrial-grade machine to stay safe. Simply wiping your machine with a mild bleach solution or even washing it out once a week will help keep bacteria at bay, preventing illnesses such as pneumonia, skin infections or sickness and diarrhoea, said Hilary Metcalf, MPH, infection preventionist at Mission Hospital in California.

She also recommended using a higher temperature wash for clothes contaminated with blood or bodily fluids, and add a dash of hydrogen peroxide, bleach, or Borax to the cycle to ensure all germs are wiped out. Of course, once you’ve washed your clothes, it’s time to hand over to Mother Nature, as drying them in the sun is a powerful way to kill plenty of germs, Metcalf said.

Gallery: These Are the Health Risks Lurking in Your Bathroom (Best Life)

CJ Xia, VP of marketing and sales at antibody manufacturing company Boster Biological Technology went further, and even suggested ditching dryers ‘entirely’.

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