London - South African homes have what may be the cleanest dishcloths in the world.

Experts say that dishcloths - used to wash your knives, forks and plates - can collect six times as much bacteria as the handles used to flush toilets, and can harbour potentially life-threatening germs such as E.coli.

A team of researchers collected cloths from homes in countries such as the UK, the US, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates and India.

These were then swabbed and analysed in a laboratory.

No dishcloths from Britain or the US were deemed to have “satisfactory” levels of bacteria, but around five percent of the cloths collected in India, 10 percent from the UAE and 25 percent of cloths collected in South Africa had “satisfactory” low levels of germs, according to the Dettol hygiene home truths study, which was commissioned by the Global Hygiene Council,

One hundred percent of British dishcloths were found to have ‘unsatisfactory or worse’ levels of bacteria, compared to 20 percent of British toilet handles.

A quarter of the cloths contained one billion Pseudomonas bacteria in every square metre. Pseudomonas, which is usually found in damp and dirty conditions, can cause minor skin infections as well as eye infections and several potentially life-threatening illnesses.

Around seven percent of UK dishcloths had more than a billion bacteria per square metre, and 60 percent were contaminated with E.coli, which causes stomach upsets and can be fatal.

According to health specialists, the cloths often pose a hidden danger in people’s homes – as they can be responsible for spreading dangerous infections.

The best way to keep your kitchen safe is to wash them thoroughly after each use and then rinse with an anti-bacterial detergent every two days.

But while 40 percent of people know that dishcloths can harbour high levels of bacteria, just 15 percent regularly machine wash them at high enough temperatures to kill the germs.

Experts recommend deep-cleaning them in the washing machine at a temperature of 60 degrees and replacing them every few months.

Professor John Oxford, Professor of Virology at the Royal London Hospital, said: “Dishcloths are a hidden health hazard as they harbour harmful bacteria and can spread them around the kitchen – over the worktops, chopping boards, on surfaces where families eat and potentially throughout the home.

“By using a contaminated cloth, people are likely to be transferring bacteria around the home and putting themselves and their families at risk of infection.” - Daily Mail