AUSTIN (KXAN) – Premature babies in a German hospital’s intensive care unit became the victims of a drug resistant pathogen, according to a new report published in American Society for Microbiology. Bacteria had been discovered growing on the infants’ skin, which was later tracked down to a washing machine used to clean socks and hats. The washing machine, a common household unit, had become a cesspool for bacteria. None of the infants became sick, but the story is a good reminder for how you should clean your clothes.
Most people wash their clothes in cold or warm water, but to properly kill bacteria in a washing machine, the water needs to be around 140 degrees. On common household machines, the warm water cycle runs 90- 110 degrees and the cold-water setting is usually less than 80 degrees.
The Department of Energy even recommends washing your clothes on cold most of the time. The hotter the water it is, the more energy it requires. Energy Star products are advertised as using 25% less power than other machines. According to the report, these same machines top off at 140 degrees, meaning they might not get hot enough to kill the bacteria off.
Hospitals wash their laundry in industrial machines that run hotter and use special disinfectants.
The risk to babies
Even though your washing machine is probably full of bacteria, most of these germs aren’t harmful to us. Most homes aren’t full of dangerous pathogens and we’re used to the bacteria that already coats our bodies.
For infants, however, this same bacterium can be very dangerous. An infant’s immune system doesn’t mature until around two to three months. Meaning even their own bacteria can make them sick. Baby poop and spit-up, if not properly cleaned, can contain that bacteria.
When washing baby clothes, soiled clothes should be cleaned separately, at a high temperature and using a mild disinfectant. You should also use a mild detergent, as more powerful detergents can irritate the baby’s skin.
Once you’re done with the wash, you should clean the washer by doing an empty load on a very high heat. This extra cycle will help eliminate any remaining bacteria in the machine.