Researchers find leaving hospital staff to clean uniforms at home is an unhealthy practice

Doctor with Mask & Stethoscope arms foldedMany hospitals leave their staff to handle their own uniform cleaning at home, and at least one group of researchers has found that to be an unhealthy practice. Typical home laundry processes simply won’t remove bacteria from clothing.

Researchers at DeMontfort University in Leicester, England, surveyed 265 hospital staff workers at four hospitals to learn more about their uniform washing habits. They asked staff how often they washed their uniforms, the temperatures they wash them at and whether uniforms were washed separately from other clothing.

The results showed 49 percent of those surveyed did not wash their uniforms at a recommended temperature of 60°C while 40 percent also washed their uniforms with other clothing, risking cross-contamination and spread of illness. A total of 74 percent of respondents said they washed their uniforms after every shift, which means the remaining 26 percent potentially were carrying bacteria-contaminated clothing into another shift.

The report authors – DMU microbiologist Katie Laird , PhD student Kate Riley and Principal Lecturer John Williams, from the university’s School of Fashion and Textiles – have called for national guidelines to be introduced and have also recommended washing of hospital uniforms is moved back in-house.

It is common for staff to launder their uniforms at home as it reduces NHS costs and is more convenient. But as we’ve noted, the cost-cutting and convenience comes at an unacceptable cost. The report writers have suggested that moving uniform cleaning back in-house would rule out any possibilities of not meeting a national standard.

In this piece, Enteric Virus Survival during Household Laundering and Impact of Disinfection with Sodium Hypochlorite, it was found that washing with detergent alone was not found to be effective for the removal or inactivation of enteric viruses, as significant concentrations of virus were found on the swatches (reductions of 92 to 99%). It was also demonstrated that viruses are readily transferred from contaminated cloths to uncontaminated clothes. The use of sodium hypochlorite reduced the number of infectious viruses on the swatches after washing and drying by at least 99.99%. Laundering practices in common use in the United States do not eliminate enteric and respiratory viruses from clothes. The use of bleach can further reduce the numbers of enteric viruses in laundry.

Sanitation of Low Temperature Home Laundry experiments with a procedure that was developed to closely simulate the home laundry process. It measured the ability of the entire laundry process to remove bacteria from fabrics, including the mechanical action of washing, rinsing and tumble drying. It finds:

  • The use of detergent alone was not effective in sanitizing fabrics when water of low temperature was used in the laundry.
  • Detergent concentration had no effect on the numbers of bacteria surviving treatment.
  • The nonionic non-phosphate detergent resulted in lower bacterial counts when used on the terry cloth, whereas the anionic phosphate detergent was slightly more effective on the polyester/cotton sheeting.
  • The number of bacteria surviving treatment was reduced slightly by raising the wash water temperature from 65°F to 105°F.
  • Use of a disinfectant significantly reduced bacteria counts.
  • Increasing the disinfectant concentration reduced bacteria survival with the medium concentration providing an acceptable level of reduction.
  • Drying at 160° F yielded lower counts than drying at 80°F.

5 thoughts on “Researchers find leaving hospital staff to clean uniforms at home is an unhealthy practice”

  1. This is very informing, as it is the default practice in almost all hospitals, especially in Ghana.

    1. Phil, Like the fact you are looking at the surfaces that touch the patient the most. It is also possible to make the laundry, after market, antimicrobial. It last much longer the silver. Love, love the fact you are pushing to persistent cleaning

  2. Interestingly the evidence of washing at home compliance carried out by Researchers at DeMontfort University in Leicester, England, that you mentioned in your article is very weak anectdotal evidence.
    Based on 40 years of experience and knowledge of the working practices in the UK hospitals, I would seriously doubt the validity of the findings that a total of 74 percent of respondents said they washed their uniforms after every shift!

    1. Phil, Just like folks claiming to wash their hands. The key issues: Home laundry is not hot enough
      Most likely not not using a disinfectant

      It is time to professionalize infection control.

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