Loofahs, washcloths, and scrubbers are great to use in the shower—but only if you're taking proper care of them. That means giving them the chance to dry out between uses and laundering them regularly to ensure you're getting rid of bacteria. The only hygienic way around this? Ditch these tools and use your hands, instead.
"For many people, just using your hands is fine," says Marisa Garshick, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City. She explains that they're always with you (an obvious bonus!) and are much easier to clean than any other tool. Plus, they're super gentle on your skin. Scrubbing with any tool can exacerbate conditions like psoriasis, eczema, and acne, so using just your hands is best in these cases.
The next-best hygienic shower tool? A bar of soap. "Cleansing bars, like the Dove Beauty Bar ($4) or anything like that, can also be used," says Dr. Garshick. If you want something that scrubs (and, as a caveat, don't have sensitive skin), you can use an exfoliating bar like the Ursa Major Morning Mojo Bar Soap ($12). To keep it clean, "after you apply it to your body, just kind of give it like a gentle rinse under the shower head before storing it away just to make sure whatever you've rubbed off of your skin isn't sitting on the bar itself," says Dr. Garshick. For some extra cleaning options, you can also look into a detachable shower head. (And for a mood boost, explore cold shower benefit.)
If you truly can't part ways with scrubbing tools (and, again, don't have sensitive skin), the best options are the ones that are easy to keep clean. "Any kind of extra tool, whether it's a washcloth or loofa, can be helpful as long as proper care is taken to minimize the potential for bacteria buildup and moisture buildup," says Dr. Garshick. That's because the germs and bacteria that these tools lift off us hang around and can multiply.
"Bacteria only need three things to grow," says microbiologist Jason Tetro. "They need water, which they're going to have lots of [in the shower]; they're going to need food, which comes in the form of your skin, your oil, all the things that you're scrubbing off; and they need a nice temperature in order to grow." He says that in about 10 days, the bacteria that live on our loofas and other tools get "really, really, really happy" and begins to grow at their maximum rate. So you need to make sure you're cleaning them after about a week.
When it comes to tools that are easy to keep clean, Dr. Garshick's favorite option is a washcloth. "A washcloth can be a nice option cause for many people those are more likely to be thrown in the laundry," she says. Be sure to hang it in a spot where it can fully dry between uses and chuck it in the wash after a week. Consider a quick-drying option like Coyuchi Air Weight Washcloth ($8).
As for scrubbers that can't go in the washing machine, like the Up& Up Bath Loofah ($3) or the Dehiya Beauty Mihakka Cleansing Tool ($18), you'll have to disinfect them on the stove. Tetro says to bring a pot of water to a boil, remove it from heat and then place the tool inside. Leave it submerged for one to three minutes to kill those germs.
At the end of the day, though, the best tools are the ones attached to your body. Remember that your hands alone are plenty effective for hygienically cleaning your body, and require far less maintenance than all of the other (potentially bacteria-laden) bells and whistles. And don't forget that all bathroom textiles—from your towels to your bath pillow—need regular washing to stay fresh and clean.
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