How safe is washing your uniform at home?

 Laird K et al  | 2018  | Domestic laundering of nurses’ uniforms: what are the risks? | Nursing Times  | ePub | Vol. 114 | 2 | P. 18-21

Researchers at De Montfort University, Leicester reviewed the literature on domestic laundering of hospital uniforms. An earlier study (2015) also at De Montfort, which  included 265 healthcare staff from across disciplines and in a range of roles  (nurses, healthcare assistants, ward clerks, housekeepers, and physiotherapists) completed a questionnaire.  It showed 43.7% laundered their uniforms below the 60°C recommended by the Department of Health; a third (33%) washed them at 40°C and 5% at 30°C.  Around a quarter of the staff sampled also revealed that they wore their uniform for two or more shifts before washing it, longer than the recommended wash after every shift (via Nursing Times).

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In a laboratory experiment, the scientists repeated the staff’s  most common laundering practices (derived from the 2015 study), and assessed the survival of Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia colion cotton and polyester fibres (Riley et al, 2017). The data showed that both bacteria were able to survive on polyester for up to seven days and on cotton for up to 21 days.

For the authors this raises the question of the storage of dirty uniforms at home, especially with regard to potential cross-contamination with surfaces in the home environment.  They also experimented to find if cross-contamination occurred in the wash,  including sterile samples with the uniforms. Washing at 40˚C did remove most micro-organisms, but the cells that were left were in excess of 1,000, and similar numbers had been transferred to the sterile items. This highlights the risk that other items of clothing in the home could become contaminated, or that domestically laundered uniforms could re-contaminate the home and/or healthcare environment.

The full article is available from The Nursing Times 

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