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You've probably noticed the "sanitize" cycle on your laundry machine or have spotted laundry sanitizing products at the grocery store, but for many of us, knowing when it's necessary to sanitize our laundry is still a mystery. Do bath towels need to be sanitized, and what about sweaty gym clothes? Doesn't a regular laundry cycle kill germs, too? To answer these pressing laundry questions, we reached out to the pros at Clorox and LG Electronics. Here's exactly when they recommend boosting the germ-fighting power, plus how to sanitize laundry the easy way.

When Should You Sanitize Your Laundry?

The experts agree that you should regularly sanitize your dirtiest laundry. Yes, we're looking at you, workout clothes and that blanket your sick, sniffling child has been carrying around the house. But you don't need to sanitize every single load of laundry. Regular washing will remove some germs and bacteria, but to "sanitize" laundry means to use high temperatures or chemicals to kill 99.9 percent of germs.

"Using the sanitary setting on your washer is a great option, but it doesn't need to be used every day," says Laura Johnson, consumer analyst for research and development at LG Electronics. "The extremely hot water temperatures the setting uses can be hard on clothes and can cause fading over time. The cycle is designed to remove 99.9 percent of bacteria, so it's great when you really need it—for instance, to help prevent the spread of germs from clothing and bedding if someone in your home has been sick." When a family member is sick, sanitizing their bed sheets, bath towels, and clothing can help keep the rest of your household healthy.

"For gym clothes, workout wear, any clothing that gets sweaty, smelly, and gross—sanitize it all!" says Mary Gagliardi, aka "Dr. Laundry," Clorox's in-house scientist and cleaning expert. "A good rule is: if you sweated in or on something, it needs to be sanitized. This includes musty bath towels, too!" Gym clothes, workout towels, and bath towels? Check, check, and check!

How to Sanitize Laundry: two laundry baskets with towels
Credit: Getty Images

How to Sanitize Laundry

Use the sanitary cycle: If your washing machine has a "sanitary" or "sanitize" cycle and you're washing textiles that can withstand high temperatures, this is one of the easiest ways to get germ-free laundry. "Cottons and the like can be washed in the extra hot temperatures using the sanitize cycle on your washer—but you want to be careful with other items that can't handle those high temperatures (think elastics, spandex, wools, etc.)," says Johnson. Check the care label on clothing or towels before you sanitize them.

Use the dryer: For items that can't be washed in water but can handle high temperatures, the "steam sanitary" cycle on your dryer may be the answer. "This is a great option for things like stuffed animals and pillows (not down pillows though!)," explains Johnson.

Use a laundry sanitizer: If your washing machine doesn't have a sanitize cycle or the garments can't handle high heat, adding a laundry sanitizer is the solution. "While using bleach to wash bleach-safe laundry has been the go-to for laundry sanitization for decades, now laundry sanitizer products can help take care of the items you can't add to your bleach load. I recommend using a product such as Clorox® Fabric Sanitizer to sanitize all your machine-washable laundry that isn't bleach-safe," says Gagliardi.

Steam clean: If used properly, a clothing steamer can actually kill germs and bacteria, thanks to the high temperatures. A luxuriously low-effort option: invest in the LG Styler steam closet, which will sanitize and de-wrinkle your blouses, jackets, face masks, and more without harsh chemicals.