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How to disinfect your laundry and stop the spread of germs in the wash

Doing the laundry may seem like a boring old chore, but proper laundry hygiene can be an important way to help keep you and your family healthy.

Protecting your family wash

Washing hands and cleaning surfaces are well known ways to prevent the spread of infection, but did you know that how you do your laundry can play a part too?

What is laundry hygiene?

Laundry hygiene refers to the removal of germs from your clothes and other fabrics, so that the cycle of cross-contamination through laundry is broken. Practicing good laundry hygiene is critical in places like hospitals, but it’s also important at home too.

Unlike simply cleaning off dirt and stains, it’s harder to know whether germs have been successfully removed from your laundry – just because something looks clean does not always mean it’s hygienically clean.

How do germs end up on clothes and other fabrics?

Germs from our skin are transferred onto fabrics every time we wear or use them. Some parts of our bodies will transfer more germs than others. Our armpits, for example, will generally emit a lot of germs when it’s hot and sweaty, and our underwear tends to harbour a lot of germs too. Germs can also make their way to clothes and fabric from our external environment, like contact with raw food, animals or someone who is sick.

Germs in the washing machine

Your washing machine itself can be a source of contamination. As they enter with the water and laundry, germs can form biofilms that stick to the machine, particularly in plastic parts like the detergent drawer.  These germs might then detach during the rinse cycle and contaminate clothes in the wash.

Do you ever get musty smells on clothes and laundry even after washing? Germs from your washing machine may be the source. They are able feed on sweat residues that haven’t been properly removed, which enables them to grow and cause unpleasant odours, especially if the clothing is left damp for long periods.

Regularly cleaning your washing machine can help prevent this. Using Dettol Washing Machine Cleaner can remove 99.9% of germs* as well as bad odours, limescale and dirt.

*Germs tested: E. coli, E. hirea and P. aeruginosa.

How to remove germs from your clothes

The right combination of temperature, laundry products and machine mechanics can help remove germs from your clothes and household linens.


Temperature is one of the most important ways to kill germs in the laundry. The heat both kills the germs as well as improves the efficacy of laundry products. To successfully kill germs, the ideal temperature you should wash your laundry is 60°C.

In order to reduce energy costs, many people now opt to wash at lower temperatures (30-40°C) which can increase the chance of germs surviving in the wash. If you do choose to wash at a lower temperature, you can try offsetting this with a longer wash time, or by adding laundry products with antibacterial properties. 

Laundry Products

Laundry detergent is a must, because it contains chemicals called surfactants that physically remove dirt and germs from fabric. For optimal germ-kill, add, or use a detergent with bleach. When bleach is used, most germs are inactivated even at lower temperatures.

Another option is to use special laundry rinse aids, like Dettol Laundry Sanitiser, which can remove 99.9% of germs^, even in cold water.6 These products contain chemicals that are released during the rinse cycle and remain on the fabric after laundering. This helps prevent contamination of germs from the machine as well as providing ongoing germ protection.

^Germs tested: E. coli and S. aureus.

Machine mechanics

This refers to the motion of the washing machine as it cleans. Even without detergent and high temperatures, the movement of the machine can help with the physical removal of germs from fabrics.

Finally, drying your laundry also plays a part in removing any remaining germs:

  • Drying outdoors in sunlight provides a germ-killing effect from ultraviolet rays
  • Tumble drying at 40°C or more for at least 20 minutes can help remove germs
  • Ironing, especially steam ironing, is also helpful
  • Store clothes completely dry to prevent germs from growing

When do I need to disinfect clothes?

While hygienic laundry should always be a priority, it’s particularly important to properly disinfect clothes and household linens when you have vulnerable people like infants, the elderly, pregnant women and people with a deficient immune system in your household. Healthcare workers should also disinfect their uniforms.

It’s also important to properly disinfect laundry when someone at home is sick. Removing germs from clothes and bedding will help prevent cross-contamination between family members.

Best laundry tips for a hygienic clean

  • Always wash items with a high risk of contamination at 60°C with a bleach-based detergent, using a standard wash cycle.
    • This includes uniforms, sports clothing, nappies, dish towels, pet blankets, or the clothing and bedding of someone who is sick or vulnerable to infection.1
  • For items that can’t be washed with bleach or at high temperatures, prewash them by soaking in cold water with a non-bleach detergent.1 Then, wash at 30-40°C (or according to the care label) and add a germ-killing rinse aid like Dettol Laundry Sanitiser.
  • To reduce the risk of germ transmission, separate laundry into the following groups for washing:
    • Items used for food preparation
    • Items from someone who is sick, or that are visibly soiled with bodily fluids
    • Healthcare worker uniforms
    • Items with persistent, direct contact with our bodies – underwear, socks, towels, bed linens, etc
    • Items with limited contact with our bodies – jackets, jumpers, pants, skirts, tablecloths, etc
  • Don’t overload the machine and make sure to put the correct dose of detergent.
  • Remove residual solid material with a tissue before washing – avoid prewashing dirty items by hand in the sink, as this might contaminate the area.
  • Dry laundry as soon as possible after washing – don’t leave it in the washing machine overnight!
  • If using a shared laundry facility, always use a bleach-based product and high temperature wash (40-60°C).
  • Always wash your hands after handling soiled laundry.
  • Clean your washing machine every 2 months with a disinfectant like Dettol Washing Machine Cleaner to prevent biofilm build-up:
    • Clean the door, rubber lining and detergent drawer using a diluted solution of Dettol Washing Machine Cleaner and water.
    • Pour the remaining Dettol Washing Machine Cleaner in the detergent drawer and run the machine on an empty cycle at 60°

Leave the door and detergent drawer open after every use to allow inner surfaces to dry.

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