New safefood research ‘dishes the dirt’ on dishcloths

29 March, 2012. New research¹ published today by safefood, the body responsible for promoting food safety and nutrition, reveals that 27% of household dishcloths contain the raw meat bacteria E. coli.

The research - unveiled as part of a major campaign by safefood to make consumers aware that everyday kitchen habits can cause food poisoning – also found Listeria on 14% of 200 household dishcloths¹ analysed by scientists.

Scientists also found that simply soaking dishcloths in a bleach solution or rinsing them under the tap cannot be relied upon to clean them effectively.

Dr. Gary Kearney, Director, Food Science, safefood, said,

The dishcloth is a familiar sight in almost every kitchen on the island of Ireland, but if not cleaned properly can be a source of food poisoning – especially if used to wipe worktops where we prepare raw meat, raw poultry and raw vegetables. A damp dishcloth can serve as a breeding ground for germs, especially if we leave it crumpled up overnight to dry. Using it again before properly cleaning means germs can spread to other surfaces in the kitchen.”

While over a third (36%) of consumers¹ who re-use dishcloths clean them in a bleach solution, safefood’s scientific research found that this method was not as effective at removing germs that can cause food poisoning.

Dr. David McCleery, Chief Specialist in Microbiology, added: “Our research found that washing kitchen dishcloths in a washing machine or boiling them in water for 15 minutes were the most effective ways to properly clean them. Soaking, washing under the tap or washing in the dishwasher just aren’t as effective. Ideally, we should also wash dishcloths every two days. If you’ve used a dishcloth to wipe up after raw meat, raw poultry or raw vegetables, then you should replace it immediately with a clean one. And if there’s a noticeable smell from your dishcloth, then it’s definitely time to change it.”

Research² has also shown that 1 in 5 consumers (21%) throw out dishcloths instead of washing them for re-use.

- ENDS -

For further information please contact:

Orla Dormer
Telephone: 01 669 0030 / 085 708 6877

Dermot Moriarty
Telephone: 01 448 0622 / Mobile: 086 381 1034

Editor’s Notes

The four main types of dishcloth identified in the research as being used by consumers were cloth (34%), sponge (19%), “J-cloth” (16%) and microfiber cloth (15%). These represent over 80% of the dishcloth types most commonly used.

safefood’s advice for consumers - kitchen dishcloths;

  • Change or wash your dishcloth at least every two days
  • The most effective way to clean your dishcloth is in a washing machine on a normal 30o or 40o cycle or by boiling for 15 minutes on a rolling boil
  • Change your dishcloth immediately after using it to wipe ‘higher risk’ food residues (e.g. raw meat/poultry/fish, raw root vegetables)
  • Allow your dishcloth to dry in between uses
  • If you can smell an odour from your dishcloth, then it’s time to change your dishcloth


  1. ‘Assessment of the ability of dishcloths to spread harmful bacteria to other kitchen surfaces and determination of the effectiveness of various dishcloth cleaning regimes’. safefood/Prof David McDowell; University of Ulster; Jordanstown
  2. ‘The microbiological status or household dishcloths and associated consumer hygiene practices’. safefood/ Eolas International, 2011