As a critical measure for infection prevention, administrators in healthcare facilities and hospitals are increasingly reminding nurses and staff members to be aware of any laundry they come in contact with. Staff need to understand the essential requirements of transporting, cleaning, and storing laundry to avoid contamination, as well as the essential differences between hygienic and sanitized laundry and linen.
Here, we’ll cover the details of laundry sanitation and the beginnings of how to develop an integrated infection prevention and control program as part of staff training and education for any healthcare facility.
What’s Laundry Sanitation?
Keeping laundry sanitized is a basic component of infection prevention in hospitals. Essentially and perhaps obviously, it entails proper sorting, cleaning, storing, and handling of hospital laundry and linens to prevent the transmission of pathogenic microorganisms. In any healthcare facility, laundry may include personal clothing, towels, bed sheets, blankets, patient apparel, gowns, uniforms, scrubs, and privacy curtains.
Hospitals need to have properly defined laundry processes that prevent contaminated laundry from contributing to the incidences of hospital infections. Keep in mind that regular washing alone might not entirely remove most bacteria. The process needs to include detergents designed specifically for strong antimicrobial action. Some processes go even further to ensure near-total contaminant removal.
Why Does It Matter?
During a hospital stay, patients are surrounded by a lot of laundry and linens, which get contaminated as a result of various infections. Staff uniforms and outfits come in contact with different contaminants and microorganisms during every interaction with patients.
With insufficient sanitation, the linens and outfits can aggravate health conditions in a facility. If they’re not cleaned as thoroughly as possible, each exposure is another chance for the inspection to spread. Textiles in hospitals are fomites, meaning they’re capable of carrying organisms. Bacteria, such as VRE and MRSA, can survive in unclean laundry for up to 90 days.
As such, the laundry sanitation process should involve a complete textile processing cycle to kill as many organisms as possible. This aids in infection control and prevention, which improves efficiency and productivity in your facility’s operation.
The Hospital Laundry Process
From a very top-level perspective, the process starts with the removal of clothing, linens, and other textiles from areas where the contamination occurred. This can be patients’ rooms, laboratories, and surgical areas. Staff should never sort or rinse the laundry in such areas.
The contaminated laundry should be put into bags or other appropriate containment during removal. The bags should be securely closed or tied to prevent possible leakage. Wet laundry should be put in leak-resistant containment. Also, the bags should be clearly labeled to guide transporters and laundry workers.
The complete laundering cycle should include flushing, main wash, rinsing, and souring, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Hot water washing at a temperature of at least 160°F is advisable. You can use a steam jet during this process.
The laundry should be dried and pressed before being transported back to the facility. Be sure the items are well packaged before transportation to prevent contamination from dust and dirt.
Hygienic vs. Sanitized Linens
It’s common for commercial laundry services to use the phrase “hygienically clean” in their marketing materials. But what does it mean? And how is it different from sanitized linens?
Laundry can be rendered hygienically clean after going through the process of soil removal, pathogen removal, and pathogen inactivation. In this case, such laundry carries a negligible risk to patients and healthcare workers. It has been cleaned enough to remove most pathogens and any remaining pathogens might not lead to any illness. Unfortunately, there is no standard definition for what “hygienically clean” means.
Sanitized linens, on the other hand, undergo a process to kill the drug-resistant strains of different pathogens. Examples include Staphylococcus Aureus and Clostridium difficile. Some services prefer using cold water with dissolved ozone concentrations over hot water with chlorine during the process. In most cases, textiles such as surgical drapes and reusable gowns usually need to be sanitized before use. Sanitized benefits from a standard definition of pathogen kill.
In general, sanitization is typically used to refer to the phase of killing pathogens after the washing phase. It has proven to be effective in eliminating contaminants, such as Giardia Cyst and Cryptosporidium Oocyst, which tend to be hard to kill during washing.
Develop a Policy
It’s nearly impossible to achieve proper laundry sanitation in your facility without a policy. Whether you’re using on-site or off-site laundry washing services, you need to have a well-structured policy in place for managing contaminated textiles.
Using an accredited service can save you the hassle, as there are more than 600 standards to ensure such services are producing sanitized and hygienic laundry. In this case, you’ll need to develop an effective policy that guides workers in removing, packaging, transporting, and storing laundry.
You also have to ensure your workers have the necessary materials and equipment for handling contaminated laundry. Some laundry services can take care of the entire sanitation process from removal to storage. Just be sure to take the time to find the right service. Always ask for documentation and check for industry certifications when researching your options.
Ongoing training of staff is essential to make sure your team is always using the approved guidelines in handling hospital laundry. If you use laundry chutes, ensure they are properly designed and maintained to prevent the dispersion of pathogens.
Your policy should clearly state when laundry should be sorted. This can be before or after washing, depending on the type of material you’re dealing with. Sorting after washing is recommended, as it minimizes the exposure of workers to pathogens and reduces airborne contamination in the laundry area.
Prevention is the Best Strategy
Improving your disinfection and cleaning procedures is important in preventing new infections in your healthcare facility. This is particularly vital when dealing with contaminated laundry. Patients’ bedding, clothes, privacy curtains, and other textiles usually carry pathogens, which can pose health risks to patients, workers, and staff when not properly handled.
Be sure to create a laundry sanitation policy that ensures all hospital textiles are handled with care and cleaned properly. Also, strive to work with a laundry service that’s certified and accredited to offer professional services to healthcare facilities – it ensures you’ll have a team of experts more likely to understand the basic principles we’ve discussed here, who can help in the overall campaign for infection prevention in hospitals.