What spreads faster than a rumor in high school? Germs in the washing machine! In fact, “one germy item in the washer will spread to 90% of other items,” according to Dr. Kelly Reynolds, associate professor of environmental health at the University of Arizona.

Wait… so laundry detergent doesn’t kill germs? Exactly – myth busted! That’s why it’s so important to clean AND sanitize laundry … especially when someone in your family is sick.

Yep … There’s Probably Poop in Your Laundry

As parents, we’re no stranger to handling poop (ugh…). But how does it affect other items in the same load of laundry? Consider this: A single gram of fecal matter may contain millions of viruses that can make you sick.

And no matter how well little Tommy wipes, he probably still has fecal residue in his underwear. So when those superhero or princess undies get tossed into the washing machine along with everyone else’s clothes, pathogens can spread to other items in the same load. Yuck!

To make matters worse, many pathogens will survive the wash cycle, reinforcing the need to not only clean but also sanitize laundry in order to help prevent viruses from spreading to other members of your family.

How to Sanitize Laundry

Add ¾ cup of chlorine bleach to a regular size load of bleachable laundry, and 1¼ cup of chlorine bleach to an extra-large or heavily soiled load. Oxygen bleach – or “color-safe bleach” – may be a good alternative for sanitizing laundry that can’t be washed with chlorine bleach.

Always check an item’s laundry instructions beforehand, as some fabrics – including spandex, wool, silk, and mohair – should not be treated with chlorine bleach. When in doubt, test it out!

To check if it’s safe to use chlorine bleach on a particular item, add 2 teaspoons of regular bleach to ¼ cup of water and apply a drop to a hidden area of the item. Wait one minute, then rinse and blot dry. If there is no color change, the item should be safe to wash with bleach.

Bleach Laundry Symbols

Bleach Laundry Symbols

How to Sanitize Your Washing Machine

Washing machines need sanitizing, too … especially if a family member is sick. Either run your washer’s “clean-out cycle” or follow these steps:

  1. Use hot water
  2. Select the “extra rinse” option
  3. Add ½ cup of regular bleach (6% strength) to the bleach dispenser (or fill the bleach dispenser to the “max-fill” line)
  4. Run the cycle
  5. Run an extra rinse cycle to ensure that no bleach is left behind

Also, if you use a front-loading washing machine, the rubber gasket around the door may need some extra TLC. Oftentimes, the sanitation process won’t come into contact with the gasket – allowing germs, mold or mildew to grow inside its seams. If this happens, check your owner’s manual for instructions on how to care for your washing machine’s specific rubber gasket.

The Dryer: The Secret to Stopping Germs from Spreading

You can help sanitize laundry by running it through the dryer. According to a 2007 study conducted at the University of Arizona, drying items on “high heat” for at least 28 minutes can significantly reduce the spread of viruses in the laundry.

Beware of energy efficient, low-heat settings, as these may not be as effective for sanitizing laundry. If you don’t have a dryer, hang laundry outside in direct sunlight – the ultraviolet light of the sun has disinfecting properties.

Clean AND sanitized laundry helps prevent germs from spreading to your family.