COVID-19 Adds Focus To Linen Processing Procedures For Patient/Resident Protection

Ross Murray, Intalere Nutrition/Environmental Services Advisory Specialist

By Ross Murray, Nutrition/Environmental Services Advisory Specialist, Intalere

The risk of HAIs (healthcare-associated infections) has risen to new levels of concern with the current pandemic environment. Contaminated textiles can be a carrier and potentially spread disease through residual body fluids/substances and microorganisms if not processed effectively.

Infections caused by soiled linens are most commonly viral like smallpox, hepatitis, corona and norovirus. SARS-CoV-2 the virus that causes COVID-19, is an enveloped virus, like influenza. These viruses can also live on various textile surfaces for hours or even days. A recent report identified the failure to provide clean linens as one of the factors to the spread of coronavirus cases among residents, staff and visitors at a nursing home in the Pacific Northwest.

With hospitals and non-acute senior care facilities scrambling to keep their healthcare workers in adequate PPE (personal protective equipment) to reduce the risk of transferring infectious agents, providing adequately cleaned and sanitized linens is a key concern.

Another area identified as potentially dangerous are privacy curtains or other room textiles and upholstery. A recent study found that privacy curtains became increasingly contaminated over time. According to a recent study, when first hung, the curtains had minimal contamination, but by the fourteenth day, 87.5% of curtains tested positive for MRSA.

The effective combination of water temperature, chemicals and time/mechanical action are required to inactivate pathogens that can contribute to HAIs. Below are a few considerations for properly sanitizing linens.

  • Wash Temperature – Elevated washing temperatures inactivate and remove a greater amount of microorganisms. Studies have shown some microorganisms can survive wash cycle temperatures of 160° F for periods less than 25 minutes. Below are one chemical manufacturer’s recommendations on washing temperatures.
 Ideal Conditions (with Bleach)Minimum Conditions (no Bleach)Minimum Conditions (with Bleach)
Soiled Linen150° F for 25 minutes130° F for 25 minutes120° F for 8-10 minutes
Contaminated Linen160° F for 25 minutes140° F for 25 minutes120° F for 10-13 minutes
  • Washer Mechanics – Certain pathogens, like viruses, adhere less effectively to linens than bacteria. These viruses are removed more effectively by the mechanical action of the washer. This becomes a more effective way of reducing the possible transmission than inactivating the viruses through exposure to high temperatures and chemicals. Some washers are more effective in removing viruses and bacteria than others. This may be true in continuous batch processing machines (tunnel washers) which process larger loads and operate with less water.
  • Chemical Concentrations – Bleach (sodium hypochlorite) when used with higher water temperatures can effectively inactivate pathogens. Some laundries use hydrogen peroxide-based products which are safer to use on colored textiles. When used at the same levels as bleach, hydrogen peroxide does not offer the same antimicrobial benefits. Detergent dilution rates must also be adequate to effectively remove microorganisms.
  • pH Levels – Extreme changes in pH levels can inactivate certain microorganisms, like fungi. Changes to a pH level of 5 or below have proven effective for some pathogens.
  • Dryer Temperatures – Higher dryer temperatures help drop bacterial counts as much as 95%. Testing equipment cycle temperatures is suggested.
  • Proper Training of Employees – The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Bloodborne Pathogen Standards must be in compliance in every healthcare laundry processing program. This includes proper training of employees to ensure compliance with this standard.
  • Use of Chemical Dispensers – In addition to proper water temperature and agitation in the wash cycle, precisely dispensing chemicals can ensure compliance and safety for laundry processing operations. Chemical dispensers can also provide long-term savings for the healthcare operation. Most current dispenser systems also store records documenting dilution rates and washing times.

With international focus on the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing concerns of how to help control HAIs in healthcare facilities, it is essential to have a comprehensive laundry program in place. Maintaining the health and safety of patients, residents and employees in healthcare facilities must be a priority for every provider.

We Can Help

Intalere partners with a number of suppliers including chemical and laundry equipment manufacturers and commercial laundering services. We can provide solutions to assist your operation. Contact us at 877-711-5600 or customerservice@intalere.com to learn more.

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