Foot Fungus Awareness: Can You Get Athlete’s Foot from Laundry?

A college student recently wondered just how contagious athlete’s foot can be. “We have a communal area in my dorm for laundry,” he wrote. “One of the guys here has athlete’s foot. Can I catch it from putting my clothes where he washed his clothes?” There is no easy response to this question, but we decided to explore this question further to give you the most scientific answer we could dig up.

athlete's foot laundry

Athlete’s foot fungus can transfer from socks to other articles of clothing in the wash, say researchers.
Image Source: Wikihow.com

Will Every Person Exposed to Athlete’s Foot Laundry Contract It?

The fact of the matter is: there is no one-size-fits-all answer, since each person’s individual microbial profile is so unique. As we’ve explored, a 2006 study found that only 19 in 57 families had two or more members of the household with foot fungus, and a 2009 follow-up suggested that one’s susceptibility to athlete’s foot lies in his or her DNA. That being said, there are a few other clues we can look at to determine the likelihood of contracting athlete’s foot from the laundry.

Can Germs Survive a Wash Cycle?

Fitness Magazine reports that letting wet clothes sit in the washer for 24 hours will assuredly allow mildew to form. The mildew spores can then multiply into fungal growth in the machine. A study by microbiologist Charles Gerba uncovered that, of 100 washing machines, 44% contained bacteria from fecal matter, among other disgusting microbes. “To clean it out, run an empty cycle with hot water and diluted bleach once a month, and always leave the lid open between loads to let the tub dry out completely,” they recommend.

socks drying on clothesline

Does someone at home have athlete’s foot? Better use the hottest water possible to kill fungus!
Image Source: Flickr user Karen and Brad Emerson

How Hot Does the Water Need to Be to Kill Fungus?

Israeli researchers studied 81 people with toenail fungus and athlete’s foot. They tested the socks of study participants after they had been wearing them for at least six hours. They found that 85% of the unwashed socks contained the fungus, which confirms that fungi does transfer from foot to sock. After washing the socks, they found that 6% of the socks washed at 140°F tested positive for fungus, compared to 36% of socks washed at 104°F. Furthermore, it was discovered that other clothes in the laundry loads were contaminated by the fungus. Scientists concluded that hot water and the hot dry cycle are necessary to limit the transfer of fungi within the laundry load.

Should You Create a Dedicated Laundry Basket?

German researchers from the Hohenstein Institute discovered that athlete’s foot fungus transferred to laundry baskets where contaminated socks were held, and indeed transferred to other clothing, as well. “People suffering from athlete’s foot should always store their socks separate from other textiles,” they advised. Furthermore, a portion of fungal spores survived the wash cycle “virtually unscathed” and “remained infectious,” they said. Again, they found that wash cycles cooler than 140 degrees could not prevent fungus from spreading.

What to Do With Laundry Tainted with Foot Fungus

It’s important to take steps to rid clothing of fungal spores. Remember, athlete’s foot spreads when skin flakes off and gets onto other materials. So when you find out you have athlete’s foot, immediately separate your infected socks, bedding, gym bags, and shoes from the general population. If your hamper cannot go in the wash, clean it using diluted bleach solution with hot water. Wash your laundry at 140 degrees or higher. The water temperature is even more important than using bleach, which is not considered a 100% effective way of killing fungi.

Kill Fungus on Footwear Using UV Light

In fact, one of the best methods for killing fungus is to use ultraviolet light. The SteriShoe UV shoe sanitizer can kill up to 99.9% of the bacteria and fungus on footwear within 45 minutes. Some of our customers say they’ve even laid their socks inside their shoes to sanitize them with our device, as well. (Of course, keep in mind, you’d have to turn the sock several times to get it fully sanitized, since only the materials that come into contact with the UV light can be cleared of pathogens). Our sanitizer focuses on shoes in particular, because they can’t just be thrown in the wash. If you have suffered recurrent athlete’s foot infections, you’ll definitely want to give our shoe sanitizer a 30-day risk-free try.