Hygiene is a serious issue in hospitals across the United States. Any lapse in standards can lead to contamination, causing exacerbated illnesses, and even death, in those with the weakest immune systems.
Without a proper process in place for cleaning, washing, and disinfecting facilities and equipment, germs can pass from one patient to another, which should be avoided at all costs.
So, how do hospitals treat their used linens? Are they washed for repeated use, or are they discarded outright?
What are the Official Guidelines?
Keeping linens clean is, of course, essential in hospitals and healthcare facilities. Laundering linens which have been contaminated demands comprehensive treatment, to avoid spreading infections on to other patients.
While disposing of soiled or potentially-contaminated linens would be many people’s first impulse, this is actually unnecessary. Effective laundering is sufficient to remove germs and eliminate danger.
In 2013, the Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) confirmed the proper procedure for handling contaminated linen in healthcare environments. According to their suggestions, any linens carrying blood or materials which may be infectious should be stored in impermeable bags. From there, they should then be collected by laundry personnel, before being washed.
After this, when cleaned, linens should be delivered for repeated use.
There was fairly recent controversy over the amount of linens that were being discarded by hospital staff without good reason. Hospitals allowing contaminated linens to be disposed of, rather than being thoroughly cleaned were spending money on waste disposal without actually needing to.
Cleaning Instructions for Hospital Linens
Soiled or infected linens should be washed at a temperature of 65 degrees for at least 10 minutes, or 71 degrees for a minimum of 3 minutes. Hypochlorite may be used to disinfect linens, if they can withstand it.
In a community setting, without access to specialist laundering services, contaminated linens should be washed at at least 800 degrees, with a detergent. They may be dry-cleaned cold and steam-pressed, but in general, all linens should be washed at the highest temperature available.
Microfiber sheets can be washed in ordinary machines, and dry faster than standard hospital sheets due to their thinness. Because they have such a tight weave, they are also more durable, and can be washed and dried more often. Microfiber sheets will also tear less, and keep their shape better over time.