Household washing may not be sufficient, experts say, warning that healthcare workers washing their uniforms at home may not only endanger the safety of their own families, but also their colleagues and patients.
Public Health England (PHE) recommends washing uniforms in commercial laundries, but this is not mandatory. In addition, it says that household washing should be appropriate. However, this is based on reviews released in 2007 – and contradicts recent publications that argue that household washing machines are not a sufficient way to decontaminate healthcare laundry.
For example, PHE says that washing with detergents at 30 ° C removes most gram-positive microorganisms and that washing at 60 ° C is enough to remove almost all microorganisms. However, domestic washing machines are designed to aesthetically clean and not disinfect laundry, and generally do not maintain the selected temperature once they have been reached.
Tests comparing bacteriological disinfection between an industrial laundry process at 65 ° C and a household process at 60 ° C show that the household machine leaves more than a thousand times the number of viable (living) bacteria than its industrial counterpart.
Most research to date has dealt with bacterial disinfection in the washing process, and it is imperative to repeat this work for viruses. However, a recently published scientific paper reports that SARS-CoV-2 survived at 37 ° C for 24 hours and 10 minutes at 56 ° C. *
David Stevens, CEO of the Textiles Services Association (TSA), which represents commercial laundries in the UK, said: “Tests have shown that most washing machines used in household environments are loaded and set to a 60 ° C wash program , do not reach 60 ° C, ”he says. “In addition, they don't have the controls to maintain the temperature long enough to reach the disinfection parameters that the research suggests. Industrial laundries not only reach temperature, they also do mechanical washing much more efficiently than household machines. We believe that industrial laundry, as has been demonstrated in bacteria, can kill the SARS-CoV-2 virus at least 1000 times more effectively than a household washing machine. "
Dr. Katie Laird from De Montfort University (DMU) has conducted extensive research into the survival of microorganisms in both domestic and industrial washing processes. "Uniforms for healthcare workers are often washed at home in the UK, unlike in the rest of Europe, where uniforms are washed either in the hospital or in an industrial laundry." She says. The DMU work highlights some of the potential dangers of washing uniforms at home. They include contamination of the home environment; Transmission to others in the home environment; insufficient decontamination of health uniforms and transfer to other items of clothing in the laundry; and the potential for retransmission to the hospital environment via the health uniforms washed at home.
When it comes to best practices for healthcare workers who wash their uniforms at home, PHE says they should carry the uniform in a disposable plastic bag. Clothing should be washed and ironed or tumble dried in a separate half load at the highest temperature it can tolerate.
Earlier investigations by Dr. Laird found that healthcare workers did not always follow these guidelines when washing at home, leading to the risk of inadequate decontamination. It was found that 44% of the workers washed their uniforms at temperatures below 60 ° C and 40% washed them with other clothing.
Stevens points out that there are 24,000 laundry workers who were on leave due to the crisis when working for hospitality laundries. "The UK laundry industry is able to meet the additional demand for uniform washing for healthcare workers," he says.
“Closed laundries can be reopened and used for the health sector. You already have the processes in place to ensure that the job is done safely and efficiently. We shouldn't ask healthcare workers to take potentially contaminated uniforms for washing at home. The laundry industry is ready to help fight this terrible disease. "
The TSA is the professional association of the textile care services industry. The TSA represents commercial laundry and textile rental companies. Membership ranges from family-run companies to large multinational companies. Visit www.tsa-uk.org for more information.