Should You Store Bath Towels in the Bathroom?

Having a fresh, fluffy stack of bath towels at your fingertips seems smart—but is it a breeding ground for germs?

You've seen the Pinterest boards: Spacious, light-filled bathrooms stocked with handwoven baskets, piled high with fluffy towels rolled into pretty little swirls. Maybe that's how your bathroom looks at this very instant. But given the warnings we've gotten over the years about keeping our toothbrushes six feet from the toilet to avoid germ contamination, is the bathroom the best place to store washed, unused bath towels, washcloths, and hand towels after you've spent all this time figuring out how to wash towels correctly?

The Short Answer?

No, says Kelly Reynolds, Ph.D., MSPH, professor, environmental microbiologist, and chair of the Department of Community, Environment, and Policy at the University of Arizona. "The bathroom is definitely a site for contamination," Reynolds says. "When you flush the toilet, we know the plume of aerosol can travel up to 6 feet in every direction, and at least 1 1/2 to 2 feet with low-flush toilets."

The Science

That plume of aerosol (which may sound as harmless as a burst from your grandmother's can of hairspray) is filled with fecal and/or vomit contaminants, depending on what's getting flushed. "These bacteria and viruses can settle on towels and stay alive for days to weeks," Reynolds explains.

While Reynolds acknowledges that each person's answer to "how much do I care about germs?" is different, she points out that the typical route of infection is when germs travel to the mouth, eyes, or nose. "If you're drying your hands or wiping your face with a contaminated towel, you could get sick."

Where to Store

Reynolds suggests storing bath towels outside the bathroom. "That's best practice," she adds. "Otherwise, keep them in a cabinet or covered container—you need a barrier so the plume can stick to something else and not your towel."

To be clear, it's not just scientific speculation at work here. "We've seen outbreak data from hotels and cruises with people in their room being ill, and then the next person that came into contact with the contaminated towels also got sick," says Reynolds.

The Bottom Line

Try to avoid storing clean, unused bath towels in the bathroom—but step it up when someone in the home is sick. And maybe start a new Pinterest trend of super-organized, color-coordinated, well-lit linen closets. Make it a thing.

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