Which cleaning cloths transfer germs to a clean surface the least?

Many people wonder how easily germs on a cloth are transferred to another clean surface. I have only tested Norwex, e-cloth, and paper towel so far.

To do these experiments, I used masking tape to section off squares on my kitchen countertop. I put 1mL of germ water onto each square and spread it around with my gloved hand. The "germ water" was either made with tap water and dirt from the backyard, or the water from a bag of packaged shredded iceberg lettuce (which is full of bacteria). I took a swab of this dirty square and rubbed it on an agar plate to be the dirty control. Then I used a clean Norwex cloth and a clean e-cloth (that had been boiled and cooled) to wipe off the squares. The cloths were wrung out but were still wet. I made 4 passes with each cloth on its respective square. This would show me how well the cloth picked up germs.

Without setting the cloth down, I immediately rubbed the cloth onto a clean square (4 passes). This would show me if the cloth left germs on the clean countertop. (I had already cleaned the countertop square with 3% hydrogen peroxide and swabbed the clean square to make sure it was really sterile.) 

I used sterile swabs to collect bacteria from the dirty squares and the "clean" squares.

I rubbed the swabs onto agar plates.

I did this experiment a few times. On this particular day, I used the water from a bag of iceberg lettuce for the bacteria "germ water". It did not have dirt added. This is similar to wiping up some spilled salad off your countertop. I also compared a Norwex and an e-cloth. Here are the results.

The plates on the left are the dirty countertop before being wiped. The middle plates show the bacteria left on the countertop after being wiped off. The plates on the right show the bacteria that was transferred to the clean surface. Both the Norwex and the e-cloth picked up a similar amount of bacteria and transferred very little.  Both cloths transferred just a few colonies to the clean surface.  

Here are the Norwex results from a different day where I tested the Norwex and Bounty paper towel. There was actual dirt and with extra bacteria from an agar plate added in the germ water for this experiment. 

The paper towel seemed to have transferred more bacteria than the Norwex. You may wonder why the cloths are leaving so many germs behind when the cloths did better in my last set of experiments where I compared the Norwex to the Clorox wipe. The reason is most likely because I did not flip the cloths over. When I did experiments to show that Norwex was a little better than a Clorox wipe, I wiped 4 times, then flipped the cloths and wiped 4 more times. In these experiments, I just wiped 4 passes and did not flip the cloth, so they did not pick as much up. 

I did another experiment with the Norwex during actual house cleaning. I used a Norwex cloth to wipe up my entire kitchen floor. My in-laws were coming, and it needed cleaned anyway. Then I rinsed the cloth thoroughly in warm water to remove debris, but it was still visibly dirty. 

I wiped the Norwex cloth on a clean sterile square on my countertop. I made 8 passes over the square. (I had cleaned it with 3% hydrogen peroxide and swabbed it to be sure it was sterile.) 

Then I used a sterile swab to collect any bacteria that may have been transferred.

I rubbed the sterile swab onto an agar plate.

Then I took the dirty Norwex cloth and pressed it directly onto an agar plate. 

Here are the results. The first plate on the left is the one that I pressed the dirty Norwex cloth on. The middle square is the swab of the square when it was sterile. The last plate on the right is the swab of the square after I wiped the dirty Norwex on it. There is only 1 colony on that square. 

From all of these experiments, I conclude that a Norwex cloth CAN transfer germs, but germ transfer from a Norwex cloth seems to be very small and insignificant as long as the cloth is not too germy.  It is still never a good idea to wipe up raw meat and then continue using that cloth. A dirty Norwex cloth balled up with food debris in a laundry basket for a day is too germy to use again without boiling or washing on a hot sanitize cycle. Also, I do not trust any cloth to clean up after someone with a stomach virus. 10% chlorine bleach water, Clorox® Hydrogen Peroxide Spray

, paper towel, and disposable gloves are your safest choices in that situation. However, if you want to use Norwex or e-cloth for your everyday cleaning, you have my blessings :) I love using them! I always wipe up my floors with a Norwex or e-cloth. I suggest rinsing them well, and hanging them up between uses.