Bleach Those Bugs Away
– By Bruce Ketchum –
Bleach necessary to rid lurking bacteria and viruses in clothes washer. Recent investigative work by acclaimed environmental microbiologist Charles
Gerba found that 60 percent of washing machines tested had significant levels of coliform bacteria, including the presence of diarrhea-causing E-coli.
In further tests, Gerba and his researchers discovered that 40 percent of sterile cloths washed in non-bleach laundry contained fecal bacteria. They found that when you do clothes with underwear in it, it contaminated all the laundry. In fact, there was enough bacteria left over to contaminate the next wash load as well.
Bacteria such as salmonella and viruses including hepatitis A, rotavirus and adenovirus were also examined. E-coli was killed in the permanent press
drying cycle, but some salmonella survived on clothes that registered 131 degrees Fahrenheit. So did hepatitis A, adenovirus and some rotavirus, illustrating the need for bleach.
To capitalize on the growing concern of harmful bacteria in the home, Procter & Gamble last year announced a reformulated version of Tide, its
top-selling laundry soap, as a sanitizing detergent with bleach. Most other companies have since followed suit, adding bleach to their laundry soap brands.
Gerba says one key problem is how people launder their clothes today. Most use cold water, or at most, warm. In fact, industry experts believe only 5
percent of households still use hot water for their laundry. And use of bleach is much less routine today than a generation ago.
A Clorox-commissioned study found that only 15 percent of all washloads – though half of those were whites – use bleach.
Furthermore, wash cycles now only average 12 minutes, and dryer cycles average just 28 minutes, says Gerba. That means that some harmful bacteria,
and especially viruses, are able to survive the rigors of normal washing and drying.
Ingesting from 100 to 1,000 pathogenic bacteria can infect someone; it takes only one to 10 viruses to accomplish the same job, Gerba said.
Most of the contamination and greatest risk occurs when a person gets bacteria on their hands during the transfer of wet laundry to the dryer, he said. If laundry facilities are next to the kitchen, there’s a good chance
that after putting washed laundry in the dryer, the person may prepare food or bring his or her fingers to their nose or mouth. Washing one’s hands
frequently cannot be overemphasized while tending to house chores.
Experts now also suggest that you run an empty cycle with bleach after every load. They say hot water isn’t necessary for this. It’s much the same as
disinfecting your counter tops after every meal preparation. Gerba says it’s like giving your machine a mouthwash.