Can Clothes Transmit Germs? (Pedcast)


I was talking to a patient the other day about how their child, who was eight months old, had gotten a febrile illness.  Usually, with most kids illnesses, the history I get includes a child who had gone somewhere where there were other children such as a party or group care, about  two days prior to the onset of their fever.  But this child didn’t go out of the house, had no siblings, no one at home had been ill, even mildly and yet he got sick. So mom and I were talking about how this can happen?


Thats when I told her about my experience as a young pediatrician with a young child named Benjamin at home.  You guys know Benjamin, the world class musician who is now 30 years old, whose music you have been enjoying on the intro and outro of each post.  At the time, Benjamin was an only child, five months old, and rarely had contact with other children.  But somehow he kept getting high fever illnesses… but where did these germs come from I kept asking myself?  How did these germs get to little Benjamin?  Then, finally I realized that I was touching and holding sick children all day long and maybe he was getting sick from ME! Maybe holding Benjamin up against my clothes was somehow making him sick?  Can my soiled clothes be bringing the germs home from work?  I washed my hands about 80 times a day so I didn’t think that my hands were the likely source of Benjamin’s troubles. Yes, I concluded that it must be my clothes that were bringing the germs into our house. Well once I figured all that out, I started changing out of my work clothes before touching little Benjamin, especially when he was very young and still in the licking stage.  I noticed an immediate drop in his rate of illness.


Recently, a lot of attention has been paid in medical literature and the press to how healthcare workers  can move germs around. You are probably familiar with the push to improve hand hygiene in doctors and nurses. There has recently been attention paid to doctors long sleeve shirts, neck ties, jewelry and watches. In England, doctors are forbidden from wearing ties for fear that they will transmit germs to patients, the so called “bare below the elbows” policy of the National Health Service in England.


Now that we know that clothes can  and do  transmit bad germs to children, what does all this mean for your family?

1.If a parent works in healthcare or any job where they come into contact with young children such as in teaching, they should be very careful to change their clothes before holding infants or toddlers, especially during the fall,winter, and spring when illness rates are very high.

2.Proper and frequent laundering of clothes is especially important during the sick months.

3. A periodic wiping down of jewelry with alcohol seems reasonable to keep them clean and germ free.

4.Clothes can be a transmitter of germs but dirty hands are the biggest offender.  Parents need to wash frequently and teach their children to wash before eating and after going to the toilet.


Well, as always, thanks for joining me today and helping to make one of the most successful pediatric blogs available.  Portable practical pediatrics is what we promise and deliver each week.  Share some of the wisdom you learn here with friends and family members and I think you will be amazed at just how much knowledge regular listeners to actually have. If you want to get email alerts of new posts, go ahead and subscribe on or to my feed on iTunes. And if you want to take your pediatric knowledge to a whole new level, pick up a copy of my book, Can Doesn’t Mean Should.  I promise that after reading it, you will be one of the best informed parents in the room.  This is your host, Dr. Paul Smolen, reminding parents that to have healthy kids, they need to be really keen, on having everyone’s clothes really clean.  Until next time.

Smo Notes: