You can kill some bacteria in your laundry cycle through washing and drying in hot water. Other bacteria will survive the washing and drying process. Most laundry detergents and commercial laundry bleach will help kill bacteria in your laundry cycle before it gets to the dryer. It is also possible to kill some bacteria in the professional dry cleaning process.
A commonly found bacterium in laundry is Escherichia coli (E. coli). Much of E. coli is killed when washed in hot water, but some will remain on clothing. The residual E. coli can be killed in the dryer. There are a couple of important factors in killing E. coli bacteria in the laundry. First, the laundry load must be washed in hot water, not warm. Using bleach can help kill the bacteria in the wash. Killing off residual E. coli bacteria in the dryer requires the hottest dryer temperature and the dryer running on a full time cycle of 45 minutes.
Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a bacterium commonly found on the skin and in the nose of many people. Staph bacteria are a common and treatable cause for minor skin infections such as pustules and boils. MRSA bacteria can cause serious, drug-resistant infections in wounds, the bloodstream or through pneumonia. According to the Centers for Disease Control, if you think your clothing may have staph bacteria on it from contact with someone with an infection, wash clothing, sheets and towels with laundry detergent, preferably in hot water. Dry the clothes completely in a hot dryer rather than air-drying to help kill the MRSA bacteria.
The flu season comes every year. You can carry the virus on your clothes from regular daily contact out in the world. The flu virus can be killed through washing in hot water and the dryer process. The heat range to kill the flu virus on fabrics must be between 167 and 212 degrees Fahrenheit, or from 75 to 100 degrees Celsius. Completely dry your laundry on a hot cycle in the dryer. You can also line dry your clothing to help disinfect your laundry, but make sure the laundry hangs in the direct line of full sunshine.
The professional dry cleaning process can reduce harmful bacteria to safe levels. Steam at 325 degrees Fahrenheit will kill bacteria. The temperature of the steam reaching the fibers in the garments will vary depending on the pressure of the boiler, the distance from between the garment and the streamer, and whether or not the garment will be ironed. Steam is particularly effective in killing bacteria, so do not use a coin-operated dry cleaner, as it will not include the finishing process. Notify your dry cleaner that you are trying to kill bacteria from situations such as flood damage.