The answer may surprise you.
Everyone knows the kitchen is the heart of the home. But it would be nothing without the proper cookware, utensils, and appliances. Rounding out this list of essential kitchen accoutrements are dish towels. These colorful and patterned utilitarian cloths are great for complementing the décor of your kitchen, but that’s not their only function.
Dish towels are a necessity for maintaining a sanitary space, whether for drying your hands and dishes or cleaning up spills on the counter. However, with all the dish duty, household chores, and major kitchen tasks that these absorbent towels provide, they also serve as an ideal breeding ground for bacteria. Which means you’ll find yourself washing dish towels more frequently to get rid of gross germs.
But just as you start to tackle that mountain of clothing, socks, and towels, you may be wondering: Should I be washing these wet, dirty kitchen towels separately, or can I just throw them in with the rest of the laundry to cut down on loads?
Well, the short answer to the latter question is no—but here are some do’s and don’ts from laundry and Clorox expert Mary Gagliardi, otherwise known as “Dr. Laundry.” She shared the following three handy tips with TODAY Home to ease your laundering worries.
1. Wash heavily-soiled dish towels separately.
According to Gagliardi, for germ-infested kitchen and bathroom items like mop heads, dish towels, and cleaning cloths, wash them as a separate load from regular laundry. One thing Gagliardi suggested was to rinse food particles and solid matter out of the towels and rags before putting them in the washer. The only exception is if you have maybe one or two dirty dish towels or cloths. In that instance, Gagliardi recommended washing those few items with your regular load of whites.
2. Always set your washer to this temperature setting.
To ensure your kitchen towels are properly cleaned, it’s best to wash them on the hottest temperature suggested on the fabric care label. But, according to Gagliardi, don’t just set your washer to the “hot” setting and rush off to do other chores. Before the hot water cycles through the pipes, chances are more cold water will be added to the drum.
To prevent this, pre-rinse the towels on the hot temperature setting prior to beginning the regular wash cycle. This will ensure the pipes warm up enough to have hot water circulate during the cycle. Another tip Gagliardi offered was to turn up the thermostat on the hot water heater the night before you plan to launder your towels and other items.
3. Use bleach.
Bleach should be added to get rid of bacteria. However, keep in mind that you should always add the cleaning solution to the bleach dispenser, and not directly on top of the towels. If your dish towels aren’t safe for bleach, washing in hot water alone will help to reduce germs.
This story originally appeared on Southern Living.