The Dirtiest Part Of Your Clothes & Why You Should Be Aware Of It

mbg Editorial Assistant By Abby Moore
mbg Editorial Assistant
Abby Moore is an Editorial Assistant at mindbodygreen. She earned a B.A. in Journalism from The University of Texas at Austin and has previously written for Tribeza magazine.
unrecognizable young woman from the back with a bouquet of wild flowers in a pocket of jeans

If all the buzz about proper hand hygiene has taught us anything, it's that we might not be quite as clean as we thought we were. In fact, there's a certain step in the hand-washing process that a lot of people skip—and it may be making a surprising part of our clothes dirty, too.

What's the dirtiest part of our clothes?

When picturing dirty laundry, stinky gym socks and pit-stained tees may come to mind, but microbiologist Charles Gerba, Ph.D., says the hip portion of jeans may actually be the dirtiest. 

"We did a study a few years ago where we cut clothing from the bottom of pants to the top of the shirt/blouse collar—at every 6 inches—and counted the number of bacteria we isolated," Gerba tells mbg. "The most bacteria were on the hips, while the least were found under the arms." 

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Why are the hips so dirty?

One reason the hip portion of the jeans is so dirty is because they're frequently touched throughout the day. Whether someone's just standing with their hands on their hips—or worse, wiping the hips to dry their hands—bacteria will start to collect.

"People tend to not wait long enough to dry their hands completely," Gerba explains, "so they finish it out by using their hands on their hips." When air dryers are involved, he says this habit is even more common. 

Wiping partially or fully wet hands on the hip portion of the jeans increases the moisture level, thereby making it more susceptible to bacterial growth. Plus, according to Gerba, even after using soap and water, some bacteria always remains on the hands. Appropriately drying (i.e., not on the jeans) lowers the risk of contamination.

What's the best way to avoid this?

As important as hand-washing is, hand-drying is equally important but often overlooked. Here's what Gerba recommends for thoroughly cleaned hands (and therefore, cleaner hips), every time: 

  1. Wash hands thoroughly. This means washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (or the length of the "Happy Birthday" song). 
  2. Use a paper towel or a personal hand towel to dry hands. Air dryers have been shown to blow bacterial spores around, so if paper towels are available in a public restroom, that's generally the more effective option. However, if air dryers are the only option, it's still a better alternative to wiping on the hips. 
  3. Keep hand sanitizer on hand. For those who don't have access to soap and water, Gerba recommends using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Just be sure to rub it in for at least 30 seconds to ensure efficacy.

So in addition to washing your hands and keeping your fingers out of your face—adding proper hand-drying to your hygiene checklist will help keep your clothes, and you, a bit more bacteria-free.

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