There has always been something about washcloths and loofahs that has kicked my undiagnosed germaphobia into overdrive. It never mattered what family member’s household that I bathed in, the one thing that stayed the same was washcloths and loofahs scattered throughout the bathroom. Some were stiff as cardboard, and others that, according to the smell, probably should have been thrown into the washer at least a few weeks ago.
Out of fear of someone’s germs getting into my washcloth, I always made sure mine was unique in pattern so no one would ever have to mistake theirs for mine. I even made it a habit to put mine in a more secluded part of the bathroom and change it out frequently. None of these things, unfortunately, ever worked in my favor before I lived on my own. I transitioned from washcloths to loofahs as a teen, but still I was very suspicious of not only who could have mistaken (or purposely) used my washing device, but also what could be living in it.
Everyday after high school, I would run home to watch The Tyra Banks Show. I couldn't wait to see everyday what the next debate or interesting interview would be about. I will never forget on an episode titled “We're Putting Race In Your Face” featuring a multicultural panel answering the race related questions, there was a video question asking why do black people more often use washcloths in comparison to their white counterparts. The panelists responses to that question may have changed my views of using washcloths, something that the women of my family strongly forced on me.
Question: "When I’m in the shower, I have to use a washcloth. It gets in all of the nooks and crannies…but my white friends don't use them. What’s up with that?”
Response: “I don't want to have all the nook and cranny juice hanging around in our shower all day long… I think It comes down to germs… (Bar) soap doesn't get dirty.”
The panelist clearly couldn't speak for anyone but herself, but she really did get me to thinking. While, I’m not for wiping down my body with the same bar of soap as someone else, I can definitely see why one would opt of using washcloths. Dermatologists also have similar views when it comes to using washing devices such as washcloths, loofahs and sponges. According to a Huffington Post article about mistakes people make when showering, using these devices are a major no-no. “Puffs and loofahs do grow bacteria and mold and should be thrown out after four weeks,” Debra Jaliman, M.D. told Huffington Post. Cotton washcloths are the better option considering that people are more likely to replace them on a regular basis, but most people don't change them out as frequently as they should.
When it comes to washing with sponges, loofahs and washcloths, there’s more than growing bacteria in these devices and spreading the bacteria over your body to worry about. A bacteria infested washing device can lead to a skin condition called pseudomonas folliculitis, a community-acquired skin infection cause by the colonization of bacteria in hair follicles. While the disease is not super serious and will go away on its own, it is super uncomfortable and may cause irritation in the skin and lots of itching.
After so many years of using washcloths and loofahs I haven’t totally abandoned them, but it is not unusual for me to choose to wash without one on any given day. If you still aren’t convinced that washing without the use of a washcloth, loofah or anything else of that nature, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Change out your loofah or sponge every 3-4 weeks to avoid spreading bacteria; they also can be cleaned once a week by soaking them in diluted bleach for 5 minutes. Mesh loofahs are more resistant to bacteria and can be held on to for up to 8 weeks.
- Don't use the same washcloth on your body that you do on your face. This may spread bacteria from your “nooks and crannies” to you face and cause many unwanted breakouts.
- Don't share washcloths with other people no matter how close you are to them. I don't think we have to describe in detail the dangers associated with this.
- While some dermatologists argue that washcloths become so heavily soiled in just one use that it should be washed immediately, generally you are safe if change them out every 3-4 days or so. Having the same damp washcloth for days at a time is surely an invitation for bacteria and mold.
Most people won't jump at the thought of washing with their bare hands, but let's make sure that when we're washing, we're actually getting clean and not putting more dirt and bacteria on our bodies.
What are your thoughts on the hands vs. washing device scenario? We’d love to hear your opinions about it.