Safe Family: Laundry germs

Dara Zweig does at least one load of laundry every day, and you’d thing the washing machine would be the cleanest place in the house with all that soap and water washing away the grime and dirt and bacteria, right?

CBS News put some washing machines through the ringer-- Dara’s machine plus washers from 3 other homes. We also tested 2 washing machines in a Laundromat.

The results? Half of the homes had washing machines with high levels of bacteria. So high, in fact, scientists say it's the same level of contamination as a dirty diaper.

Dr Chuck Gerba of the University of Arizona did a study showing one in 4 workplaces is contaminated.

“That’s why you never want to do your underwear with your handkerchiefs because your bacteria transfers back and forth. You’ll be blowing your nose with what’s in your underwear.”

Dara's washing machine had the second highest level of bacteria.

Microbiologist Ron Schnitzer says while your washing machine may clean your clothes, but contrary to what you might think-- it probably isn't killing germs.

“All we are doing is diluting the bacteria.”

That's the case, especially if you use cold water to wash your clothes. But Schnitzer say even hot water may not do the trick.

“If the hot water is actually reaching temperatures above 180 degrees then we're killing the bacteria, but I dare say most homes do not have water that hot.”

When we tested 2 washing machines at a laundromat, a place where hundreds of people share washers, they came back with very low bacterial counts. Why? It could be the water is hotter, and the machines are cleaned.

Our microbiologist says you can get rid of bacteria in your home washing machine by doing some cleaning yourself.

“What I do is after every two to three cycles, I will just run a empty cycle with bleach to get rid of those bacteria.”

That's exactly what Dara Zweig now plans to do.

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