Your en­ergy-ef­fi­cient wash­ing ma­chine could be full of bac­te­ria


You fill it with soap and wa­ter about 300 times a year, so it must be clean. Right? A case out of Ger­many, pub­lished by the Amer­i­can So­ci­ety for Mi­cro­bi­ol­ogy, says no.

Af­ter ba­bies in a Ger­man hos­pi­tal’s neona­tal in­ten­sive care unit were found to have mul­tidrug-re­sis­tant pathogens on their skin, in­spec­tors went to work to find out why. The in­cu­ba­tors and health care work­ers all tested neg­a­tive, but Kleb­siella oxy­toca kept ap­pear­ing on the ba­bies.

“Kleb­siella oxy­toca is emerg­ing as an im­por­tant bac­te­rial iso­late caus­ing hos­pi­tal-ac­quired in­fec­tion in adults and hav­ing mul­ti­ple drug re­sis­tance to com­monly used an­tibi­otics,” the Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Health wrote.

The source of the bac­te­ria was fi­nally traced to the de­ter­gent drawer and rub­ber seal of the en­ergy-ef­fi­cient washer in the hos­pi­tal’s laun­dry room. Af­ter the wash­ing ma­chine was re­moved, the con­tam­i­na­tions stopped. The do­mes­tic wash­ing ma­chine at the hos­pi­tal was not part of the in­sti­tu­tions main laun­dry room. It was near the nurs­ery for moth­ers to wash their clothes, and nurses used it to wash ba­bies’ knit­ted hats and socks.

En­ergy-ef­fi­cient wash­ers are de­signed to clean in wa­ter that is cold or warm, sav­ing the con­sumer money. But, as CNN re­ports, stud­ies have found the tem­per­a­ture needed for ef­fec­tively killing pos­si­bly path­o­genic bac­te­ria is 140 F or higher, which is con­sid­ered hot wa­ter. “When you do your tow­els with a cold wa­ter wash it’s hard to get them re­ally clean be­cause they’re so thick,” Dr. Charles Gerba, a mi­cro­bi­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Ari­zona, told CNN. “You’ve got to use hot wa­ter wash and dry it well.” If you don’t, he said, “you’ll get more E. coli on your face when you dry it with a towel than if you stuck your head in a toi­let and flushed.”


En­ergy-ef­fi­cient wash­ers are de­signed to clean in cold or warm wa­ter, but the temp needed to kill bac­te­ria is 140 F or higher.

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