Dryers are quite useful. Some people refuse to buy them because they think their clothes will shrink in them, while others simply don’t know what dimensions work for them. Of course, most of you who already own a dryer know just how convenient it is to have an appliance that can heat up and dry your clothes quickly. The question is, how hot can a dryer really get, and can that heat kill germs?

Let’s face it, even if you’re the cleanest, most sanitary person around, you will catch some germs on your clothes. It’s an inevitable outcome of going outside and socializing. Luckily, bacteria usually can’t handle high temperatures (though there are exceptions, of course), so a bit of hot water and some exposure to heat ought to do the trick. But then again, you’ll need a good balance of heat; after all, too much of it can ruin your clothes, and the germs will roam free on your garments if you don’t have enough.

In this article, I’ll try to provide an answer about dryer heat. By the end, you’ll figure out the optimal temperature for killing germs, while also keeping your clothes in one piece. But before we move on, let’s first discuss just how hot a single dryer can really get.

How Hot Does a Dryer Get?

As I stated earlier, a dryer can’t be too hot, since high temperatures can damage clothing. Once water reaches the boiling point, it starts steaming and evaporating, which can actually burn the fabric. Manufacturers have known this since the very first dryers hit the market back in the day.  

As of 2020, the ‘industry standard’ for dryer heat is roughly between 125℉ and 135℉. Of course, 135℉ is far from the highest temperature that a dryer can achieve. Most modern dryers tend to cap at 150℉, but the best dryers tested go up to an astounding 176℉. Naturally, you will never need that high of a temperature to dry regular clothing, germs or no germs.

Those are the most common temperature levels of dryers. What you need to figure out is the temperature of your own dryer and whether it can kill germs or not.

Figuring Out the Dryer’s Temperature Levels

There are two common methods of figuring out the temperature levels of your dryer. The first method is rather easy — all you have to do is read through the user manual. After all, it’s supposed to list out the temperature range, right?

Well, yes and no. There definitely are brands out there that point out the temperature range of their dryers. However, don’t be surprised if you leaf through the user manual and don’t find anything about how hot it can get. And there’s another problem; even if the dryer does list the temperature range, they often tend to exaggerate or provide inaccurate info, so you end up with clothes that still have bacteria on them after drying.

If that happens, you can always try the second method, which involves using a thermometer. There are two different ways you can go about it. When you take your clothes out of the dryer, stick a meat thermometer in the pile and note the numbers down. But if you happen to have some money to spare, you can get an infrared thermometer instead; it will give you an accurate reading and you don’t even have to stick it anywhere.

What to Avoid Doing With Thermometers

Lots of people simply get a mercury thermometer and stick it in freshly-dried clothes. However, I would advise against doing this, since we all know what happens when you stick mercury directly into a heat source.

Bizarrely, some people even leave thermometers inside of working dryers in order to get the most accurate reading. It should go without saying that you must never, under any circumstances, put any working appliance inside of a dryer. Unless you want to risk breaking your dryer or short-circuiting a fuse, you’ll want to stick to the other options I listed.

How Does Heat Affect Germs and Bacteria?

Most microorganisms are heat-sensitive to some degree. They are also sensitive to other pathogens, but heat seems to be the most widespread ‘killer’ of germs. Naturally, the level of sensitivity will vary among different types of microbes; some will perish in relatively low heat, while others might survive scorching-hot temperatures. In fact, there are some bacteria that can function quite well in absolutely extreme heat.

So, how does that relate to our dryer and its ability to kill germs? Well, in order to figure out how it can handle microbes, we first need to know what kind of dryer we have. Very broadly speaking, there are two types of dryers:

  • Ventless (condenser) dryers
  • Vented dryers

A condenser dryer does what its name suggests — it takes the moisture from clothes and condenses it into water. On the other hand, vented dryers pull dry air inside of themselves from the laundry room. They then vent out all of the moist air through a special hose.

Both of these dryers have one thing in common, and that’s generating heat. Both condenser and vented dryers heat up the air inside of the drum, which gives the evaporation a needed boost. The hot air inside should, theoretically, be able to kill bacteria and germs. So, what would be the ideal temperature for getting rid of microbes from your clothes during the drying?

The Optimal Germ-Killing Temperature

Before discussing the optimal temperature for killing bacteria and germs, we should establish one thing: you will never be able to kill all of the germs on your clothes. Moreover, you shouldn’t want to.

Normally, when people think of germs and bacteria, they think of the ones that can cause us harm and are often linked to dangerous diseases. However, there are millions of so-called good germs that actually help our body stay healthy. Luckily, lots of these beneficial germs are quite resistant to heat.

And speaking of luck, most of the germs you would deem harmful are actually not very heat-resistant. In fact, they thrive in moderate temperatures between 57°F and 70°F. Of course, the optimal temperature level will vary depending on the microbe. In other words, some might die in lower temperatures than others.

But I’ve danced around the subject long enough — what is the highest dryer temperature that kills germs? That would be 149°F, just under the top temperature most dryers can handle.

Do Dryers That Run at 149°F and Above Disinfect Clothing?

People have often asked me what dryer heat will completely disinfect their clothes. The truth is, there is no dryer that can do that because, in order to disinfect something completely, you’ll need an extreme source of heat. And that source would probably burn the clothes away, so it’s pointless to try and reach it.

But as I stated above, you don’t need to get rid of 100% of the germs on your clothes, since lots of them are quite beneficial for you. Sanitizing them in a dryer will, however, get rid of 99.9% of the harmful ones, so you’re safe either way.

What if I Can’t Get the Optimal Temperature?

Even if your dryer can’t get the optimal temperature, you can still get rid of most of the harmful germs. However, there’s a catch. In order to do it successfully at a low temperature, you have to expose your clothes to the heat for a longer time than usual.

Not all germs and bacteria will perish at 135°F; the ones that do, however, will be gone in a matter of minutes. The stubborn germs which handle heat well will take roughly about 30 minutes to kill in a 145°F dryer. Luckily for you, these stubborn germs are few and far between; most of the ones you want to kill fall in the 135°F category.

Naturally, getting rid of these germs properly will also depend on the type of clothing you’re trying to dry. Some materials require short drying periods and low temperatures, like polyester. You can find out more about different fabrics and how they dry by clicking here.

What Else Can My Dryer Get Rid Of?

As you can see, a dryer is quite effective against most of the harmful microbes out there. However, microbes are not the only living organisms that make a new home for themselves in our shirts and dresses. Therefore, we need to know just how effective a dryer is in getting rid of other unwanted living things that crawl all over fabric.

Dust Mites

Dust mites are not only incredibly annoying, but also dangerous for your health. And while there are plenty of methods of getting rid of them on various online lists, few sources mention dryer heat.

If you have a dust mite problem, you’ll be relieved to hear that dryers can absolutely kill them. All it takes is roughly 15 minutes and a heat setting of 130°F. So, if you have a dryer that can generate even more heat than that, the mites will be as good as dead in an even shorter amount of time. However, you won’t be able to get rid of their decaying bodies or feces with the dryer alone; instead, wash the clothes thoroughly first.

Bed Bugs

To me, personally, bed bugs are far more disgusting and annoying than dust mites, and they can be just as dangerous. So, when I learned that dryers can kill them, I felt both relieved and a bit elated at once.

In order to kill bed bugs in the dryer, you’ll need to expose your clothes to a temperature of 120°F for at least 30 minutes. The eggs are a bit more resilient than adult bugs, but 90 minutes ought to work for them. If your dryer can handle higher temperatures though, you’ll probably be able to get rid of them in roughly 15 minutes, tops.

Can My Dryer Overheat and Why?

Just like any other appliance, a dryer might overheat. Most people don’t notice, since dryers are supposed to be hot. However, I cannot stress enough that you have to pay close attention if your appliance gets hotter than usual. If you don’t, you risk your dryer breaking down or even causing a house fire.

Here are some of the most common reasons behind dryers overheating:

Restricted Air Flow

Dryers come with lint filters and vents. If either one of these gets clogged, your dryer will not have the air flow it needs to function properly. Once that happens, the internal temperature of the dryer starts to increase, which can lead to overheating.

In order to prevent air flow restrictions, always remember to clean the lint filter and to see if anything is clogging the vents.

Thermostat Problems

A dryer’s thermostat is responsible for regulating the temperature within the appliance. More often than not, thermostats will malfunction, and when they do, there’s a risk of overheating. So, in order to prevent any future fires, you should buy and install a new thermostat; they aren’t particularly pricy, and the repairs are so simple that anyone can do it.

Heating Element On the Fritz

A dryer’s heating element is as important as the thermostat, and after a while you might want to give it a thorough check. Sometimes, these elements shift, bend, or warp after prolonged use. Once they do, you can expect a heat disbalance. The next step is to schedule a repair or a replacement as soon as possible.

Dryers, Germs, and Bacteria: Final Thoughts

Dryers can get quite hot, and considering how thermophobic most of the harmful germs are, it won’t take more than a single drying session to get rid of them. However, make sure to always check the type of clothing you’re drying, as well as the highest temperature setting on your appliance. In addition, always pay close attention to any malfunctions or problems; after all, a dryer requires lots of maintenance and care in order to get you that perfect basket of dry clothes every time.

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