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Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

Disinfect Colored Towels

By Dr. Laundry November 13, 2008

Q. I run a wellness center where we specialize in massage therapy. How can I disinfect the linens without damaging their color?

A. Great question, and one I hear a lot. For your white and bleachable light colors, it’s pretty straightforward — simply wash in hot water using detergent and 3/4 cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach1. Unfortunately, there currently is NOT a product for disinfecting colored clothes. Clorox 2® Stain Remover & Color Booster contains hydrogen peroxide as its active ingredient. It is a much weaker bleach than the sodium hypochlorite found in Clorox® Regular-Bleach1 and is not capable of meeting EPA disinfecting requirements.

As I have written previously, the best ways to reduce germ counts in (colored) laundry are:

  • Use the hottest wash water recommended on the care label. You might also do more than one wash on these items to further reduce the bacteria count.
  • Consider washing the items of concern separately so the germs are NOT spread to more items — transfer can occur in the washer and when transferring/handling from the washer to dryer.
  • Use the hottest dryer setting recommended on the care label and dry the items separately to maximize germ reduction. While the dryer isn’t capable of killing all the germs, it will help lower the germ count.
  • Also, check the items for bleachability. It’s surprising how many things labeled as “Do Not Bleach” are actually OK to be bleached. Do the following quick bleachability/colorfast test on a hidden part of the colored item:
    • Add 2 tsp. liquid Clorox® Regular-Bleach1 in 1/4 cup water.
    • Apply a drop on a hidden color section area like inside seam, hemline or cuff.
    • Wait 1 minute and then blot with a towel.
    • No color change means it is safe to use liquid bleach on the item.
  • If bleach-fast, consider a quick bleach soak (1/4 cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach1 in gallon of warm water for 5–10 minutes) before washing in the hottest water recommended on the care label.
  • Finally, to prevent further germ spread, I would do a white load using detergent and 3/4 cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach1 after these items had been washed. It will act kind of like a mouthwash for your washer.