Washing Infected Material: Advice from the CDC

Although soiled linen may harbor large numbers of pathogenic microorganisms, the risk of actual disease transmission from soiled linen is negligible, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Rather than rigid rules and regulations, common-sense hygienic practices for processing and storage of linen are recommended, the agency says.

Soiled linen should be handled as little as possible and with minimum agitation to prevent gross microbial contamination of the air and of persons handling the linen. All soiled linen should be bagged or placed in containers at the location where it was used and should not be sorted or rinsed in the location of use. Linen heavily contaminated with blood or other body fluids should be bagged and transported in a manner that will prevent leakage. Soiled linen is generally sorted in the laundry before washing. Gloves and other appropriate protective apparel should be worn by laundry personnel while sorting soiled linen.

Commercial laundry facilities often use water temperatures of at least 160°F and 50-150 ppm of chlorine bleach to remove significant quantities of microorganisms from grossly contaminated linen. Studies have shown that a satisfactory reduction of microbial contamination can be achieved at water temperatures lower than 160°F if laundry chemicals suitable for low-temperature washing are used at proper concentrations. In the home, normal washing and drying cycles including "hot" or "cold" cycles are adequate to ensure patient safety. Instructions of the manufacturers of the machine and the detergent or wash additive should be followed closely. Commercial dry cleaning of fabrics soiled with blood also render these items free of the risk of pathogen transmission.

Clean linen should be handled, transported and stored by methods that will ensure its cleanliness.

Source: CDC