Every bar has a bar towel. It’s not used for cleaning glasses like in old-timey western movies (hopefully), but if there are spills on the bar, out comes that ratty white towel again.
But towels carry a huge variety of microbes, and bar towels are worse than most. Towels trap bacteria from your skin every time you touch them, so they’re picking up the bacteria from your body, the surface you’re wiping, and whatever else you touched that day.
They’re also damp and warm, so they’re the perfect environment for bacteria to flourish. And if you’re wiping up spilled beer and alcohol, the sugars and yeasts in the beer itself provide a fertile feeding ground.
Besides all that, many people don’t wash their hands thoroughly enough to rid them of coliform bacteria, so when they handle a towel, they’re just transferring those microorganisms to a place where they can grow even better.
According to Charles Gerba, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona, these bacteria are on kitchen towels as well as bathroom hand towels, and the numbers correlate to how frequently they’re washed.
“After about two days, if you dry your face on a hand towel, you’re probably getting more E. coli on your face than if you stuck your head in a toilet and flushed it,” Gerba says. Grossed out yet? Don’t worry! There’s an easy solution.
Use Recycled Rags — And Change Them Often
Lots of bar towels get swapped out once a day, and some not even that often. Some of that is for convenience, and part of the reason is that it’s expensive to keep enough towels on hand to swap out a new one every hour or two, or whenever there’s a big spill.
That’s why recycled towels are such a good idea. Not only are they cheaper to buy in bulk, but if you buy recycled sweatshirts or surgical towels, they’re thicker, more absorbent, and sturdier than the cheap bar towels you find through restaurant suppliers.
Since they’re already reclaimed fabric, and since you got such a wholesale bargain on them, you’ll have no qualms tossing them aside every time you get one dirty and laundering them regularly. They stay clean, your bars stay clean, and your patrons don’t have to worry about sticky elbows.
The Upgrade Option — Microfiber
If you feel like taking care of all your cleaning needs the best way you can, microfiber is the best thing on the market. Microfiber is a fabric made of thousands or millions of tiny fibers, usually nylon and polyester, on every square inch of a piece of fabric. Those tiny hairs are small enough to pick up the tiniest specks of dust, or even bacteria!
You can order microfiber in bulk to save money, but it’s definitely more expensive than cotton rags. The payoff is in the durability and versatility. First of all, microfiber towels can be laundered 300-500 times before they wear out, giving them a far longer lifespan than cotton towels.
Secondly, microfiber towels don’t require any harsh cleaning chemicals, which can reduce the lifespan of both your towels and the surface you’re cleaning. Believe it or not, microfiber towels can give an anti-microbial clean with just water. And since the tiny fibers capture bacteria so effectively, you don’t have to worry about depositing bacteria back on to the surface you just cleaned.
Microfiber towels can even clean glass using only water, and all without leaving streaks or lint on your windows. And if you want to do some dusting, or polish up shiny surfaces like stainless steel or brass fixtures, dry microfiber towels will make them sparkle.
The bottom line is that the old white terrycloth towel is a relic — and an unsanitary one at that. Upgrade to microfiber or stock up on recycled rags — or both! — and clean up your bar.