Exactly How Gross Is It to Share a Loofah?

Within families, sharing water bottles, towels, toilet seats, and bar soap can seem like the norm. So it can't be that bad to share a loofah, right? You might be surprised.

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Loofahs, those spongy, handheld scrubbers, are known to help exfoliate our skin in the shower. Yours could be hanging in the shower right now, and maybe some other family members are using it to scrub up too. No big deal, right? You’re family!

But science says it’s doesn’t matter how close you are. Sharing a loofah is more unsanitary than you’d imagine. “A loofah can cause bacteria to spread,” says Debra Brooks, MD, from Northwell Health-GoHealth Urgent Care. Loofahs store bacteria—including Pseudomonas aeruginosa, a bacterium that can cause disease in animals, according to the CDC.

The nature of a loofah makes it a virtual petri dish for germs. “It stays in the shower, a warm, wet environment which can be a breeding ground for bacteria and mold and mildew,” says Brooks. Even if you wash it, there’s still a good chance that germs are hiding in those little indentations and holes.

Anyone who has or is a carrier for MRSA, a super bug responsible for several difficult-to-treat infections, could spread that through their loofah. And people who are diabetic or immunocompromised in any way could be at higher risk of developing a general infection, especially because a loofah causes microscopic abrasions as it removes dead skin, essentially opening doors for germs to enter, says Brooks.

Loofah research

Although some people think that natural loofahs are made from dry sea sponges or other marine creatures, they are actually made from vegetable gourds of the cucumber family. The rough sponges are “composed of a network of dried cellulose fibers,” according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Microbiology.

The researchers that conducted that study observed loofah sponges over a period of days, noting that some types of bacteria thrived and would probably be able to be transmitted from the loofahs to skin. The study found that the loofahs weren’t growing many staph or strep bacteria, but they were spreading other bacteria, such as E. coli.

It’s not just bacteria you could be spreading on your skin when you’re using a loofah. Every time you use it to slough off dead skin, you’re also more than likely rubbing yesterday’s dead skin back onto your body. (Read other things you’re touching every day that could be making you sick.)

Loofah tips

If you’re keen on exfoliating your skin, consider using a body scrub, like Svelta Luxe Coffee & Raw Sugar Body Scrub or H20 Beauty Eucalyptus & Aloe Body Scrub. Or go all natural and make a homemade exfoliating sugar scrub using ingredients already in your kitchen.

If you’re still stubbornly feeling the loofah love, try following these tips from Penn Medicine and the earlier study to keep it as sanitary as possible:

  • If you use a natural loofah, clean it every week in a mix of 10 percent bleach solution.
  • Replace natural loofahs about every three weeks.
  • Replace plastic loofahs about every two months.
  • Throw loofahs out earlier if they smell or look moldy.
  • Don’t ever leave a loofah in the shower. It will take longer to dry and invite mold and bacteria to grow in the moist environment.

Next up: 8 ways you’re probably showering wrong.

Sources
Medically reviewed by Elizabeth Bahar Houshmand, MD, on May 27, 2020