You don't have to be an athlete to have athlete's foot. While the infection is usually not seriously life-threatening, it is extremely uncomfortable. If someone in your home has athlete's foot, you should know how to handle laundry to prevent it from spreading to others.
Athlete's Foot (tinea pedis) is caused by a fungus. The spores can shed onto socks, shoes, damp workout clothes, towels, gym bag interiors, and a range of sports uniforms, from wrestling singlets to cheer uniforms. Researchers from the Institute for Hygiene and Biotechnology at the Hohenstein Institute in Germany completed a study that shows infected socks and other garments can transmit the fungus to other textiles in an open laundry basket or hamper. If fabrics are not washed in hot water and disinfected, the fungus can even survive in the washer and continue the chance of infection or reinfection.
How to Prevent the Spread of Athlete's Foot in Laundry
- Separate infected socks, towels, and other exposed laundry from other items until they can be washed. This can be done with a mesh bag for holding laundry, which can be thrown into the washer to be cleaned with each load. If using a plastic basket or hamper to separate fungus-exposed laundry, wipe it down with a diluted solution of chlorine bleach and water while each load is in the washer.
- Disinfect gym bags and backpacks regularly. If they cannot be washed in hot water, use disinfectant wipes or a cloth dipped in diluted chlorine bleach and water for a thorough inside cleaning. Allow to air dry completely before using it again.
- Clean and disinfect shoes after each wearing, if possible. Allow at least 24 hours between wearings to allow shoes to dry completely.
- Use hot water (140°F or 60°C) and your regular detergent for infected laundry. Lower temperatures will not kill the fungus and can transfer spores to other fabrics in the same load.
- For white cotton socks, you can use chlorine bleach along with hot water to disinfect the fabric.
- For colored socks and clothes that cannot be washed in hot water and should not be exposed to chlorine bleach, use a non-chlorine disinfecting method.
- For wool socks that cannot be washed at a high temperature, disinfect using a non-chlorine disinfectant and cold water wash.
- Dry athlete's foot fungus–exposed fabrics on the highest suggested temperature in a tumble dryer to ensure further that the fungus is dead.
Following these steps will help in the prevention of athlete's foot to others in the household by killing the fungus.
Athlete's Foot. American Podiatric Medical Association.
Hammer, Timo R. et al. Infection Risk By Dermatophytes During Storage And After Domestic Laundry And Their Temperature-Dependent Inactivation. Mycopathologia, vol 171, no. 1, 2010, pp. 43-49. doi:10.1007/s11046-010-9347-9.
Gupta, Aditya K., and Sarah G. Versteeg. The Role of Shoe and Sock Sanitization in the Management of Superficial Fungal Infections of the Feet. Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association, vol. 109, no. 2, 2019, pp. 141–149. doi:10.7547/17-043