In Focus:

Does Washing My Clothes Kill All the Germs?

Laundry serves far nobler purposes than stamping out body odor. It also protects you from getting sick. (Brace yourself, because this is going to get gross in a hurry.)

Imagine that someone who lives in your house is ill. A single gram of his fecal matter contains millions of viruses, and exposure to just a hundred of those viruses can make you sick, says Kelly Reynolds, a germ researcher and associate professor of environmental health at the University of Arizona.

Regardless of how assiduously he wipes, the average person has about a tenth of a gram of fecal residue in his underwear, says Chuck Gerba, a professor of microbiology at Arizona. If you’re washing that sick person’s underwear with your own, chances are very good that his sickness-causing organisms are going to make their way onto your clothing.

“We’ve found that one germy item in the washer will spread to 90% of the other items,” Reynolds says. And no, it doesn’t matter how hot you set the water temperature on your machine. “When it comes to molds that cause skin or respiratory infections, or organisms that cause colds, flu and stomach flu, most of them will survive the wash cycle,” she says.

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