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Harmful Bacteria Could Be Lurking in Your Washing Machine — Here’s How to Protect Yourself

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It’s the weekend and we hope you’re having some fun, but you’re probably catching up on chores around the house too, namely laundry. Cold-and-flu season has begun, so it’s more important than ever to wash clothing and other fabrics often to make sure germs don’t linger around. And while you may feel like running everything through a normal wash cycle takes care of the job, it turns out that this might not always be the case.

This realization comes after scientists found traces of Klebsiella oxytoca (a bacteria naturally found in the intestinal tract, mouth, and nose) were detected on the clothing of infants in a children’s hospital in Germany. While this type of bacteria is considered safe in the intestine, it is otherwise harmful and can cause serious infections. After discovering the bacteria, investigators were able to determine that it came from the hospital’s laundry room. Luckily, none of the children became infected, but this posed concerns about the hygiene of modern-day washing machines and dryers.

The researchers believe that because consumer-grade washing machines are now designed differently, they’re not as effective at killing bacteria. Modern energy-efficient machines wash materials at lower temperatures, often not exceeding 140 degrees Fahrenheit, which uses less energy but can also end up causing bacteria to stick around. At cooler temps, it’s harder to kill off harmful bacteria that could lead to infection or disease. In particular, researchers found that these bacteria can lurk in areas like the rubber seal and often spread during unheated rinse cycles. Yikes!

However, the experts claim that this isn’t necessarily something to worry about unless you have children or elderly people in your home. Most harmful bacteria, like Klebsiella oxytoca, need a vulnerable host with a compromised immune system to cause an infection. Such bacteria are also more commonly found in places like hospitals and nursing homes, but if you have a child or are caring for any seniors or someone who’s been in the hospital recently, it may be best to wash your laundry in hot water.

Some other measures you can take to ensure you’re sanitizing your laundry efficiently include sanitizing the washing machine with a bleach solution, focusing on detergent drawers and rubber seals in the machine where pathogens tend to harbor. What’s more, be sure that your washing machine isn’t kept in a humid environment, as bacteria can spread more easily in such settings. And finally, kill harmful germs by hanging your laundry to dry out in the sun! Rays of sunlight are known to be a great natural sanitizer, stopping the growth of bacteria in its tracks. We hope these tips will keep you and your family clean and safe!

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