As part of our extensive in-home laundry focus, we look at how laundry can work in line with maintaining hygiene standards and the policies you should be looking to keep up with.

In care and residential homes, the threat of infection is always front of mind. One area that care professionals shouldn’t overlook when mitigating the spread of infection is laundry management. By implementing best practice procedures when it comes to the handling, laundering and storage of soiled linen, you can ensure vulnerable residents, staff, and visitors are better protected from harmful bacteria and viruses. 

Nicola Whittaker, National Account Manager at Miele Professional, shared some of her key considerations in order to minimise cross-contamination and keep your care home a hygienic space.

When handling dirty laundry, Nicola advises staff to wear single-use aprons, gloves and other types of PPE: “Contaminated PPE should be removed and disposed of correctly before moving on to other tasks such as handling clean laundry, to avoid spreading infection.” added Nicola.

Nicola explained how dirty laundry must be handled with care even before the washing process, to minimise the possibility of dispersing viruses through the air: “Dirty laundry should be kept completely separate from clean and, if possible, in a separate room. It should not be placed on the floor or other surfaces that could risk cross-contamination.”

In terms of washing dirty laundry, Nicola spoke about how self-opening bags should be loaded into the machine without removing the contents, as this allows them to unwrap automatically during the wash process, as long as the drawstring has been released, and prevents further spread of infection.

When it comes to laundry cycles, Nicola explained that staff should only use programmes with thermo or chemo-thermo disinfection wash cycles to ensure optimum hygienic results. The Department of Health’s Health Technical Memorandum 01-04 states that washing should be held at either 71⁰C for at least three minutes, or 65⁰C for at least 10 minutes, for effective thermal decontamination to take place. 

“Staff should also make sure the prescribed quantity of detergent is properly measured and that an appropriate temperature for the specific detergent is set when manually dispensing detergent.

“Items contaminated with bodily fluids should not be manually sluiced. Washable soiled items need to be placed into an alginate bag/water-soluble bag and staff should wear gloves and an apron for this process.” added Nicola.

Storing clean laundry is key in ensuring optimum hygiene at a care home, and care should be taken to ensure that the material of the linen is fit for the purpose for which it is intended, that the linen both looks clean and is clean, and that it is not damaged or discoloured. 

Nicola said: “Staff should also keep an eye on the condition of processed items that come out of the machine to ensure they are clean and not damaged in any way.”

By following this best practice guidance, you can be confident that infection is controlled throughout the laundry process. 

Any organisation washing soiled or contaminated linen must adhere to the Water Regulations Advisory Scheme (WRAS) Category 5 waste water regulations. These regulations prevent contaminated water from entering into the water supply and although many commercial washing machines are designed to meet them, some are not. Check with your service provider that all of your washing machines are compliant. If not, they will need to advise on remedial action to comply with regulations.

Experts in commercial laundry, JTM Service, explained that once any washing is complete, there are a variety of appliances which can help to make sure garments and linen are left in the best possible condition before being returned to rooms. The team stated: “Rotary ironers can drastically reduce the amount of time needed to iron linen without compromising on results, while ironing tables provide a solid base for finishing garments, complete with a large iron, steam generator and vacuum table.”

In terms of the frequency of laundering, a report on the safe management of linen in July 2020 by the Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust explained that linen and resident’s clothing should be laundered whenever visibly soiled, or at least weekly in order to maintain high levels of hygiene.

The report included details such as: “Reusable hoist slings should be laundered regularly (frequency will depend on use and the resident) and whenever visibly soiled. Hoist slings should be single patient use, e.g. labelled for use by a named resident and should not be used by any other person.

“Residents’ face cloths, body scrunchies and towels, should be laundered after each use. A documented programme should also be in place for routine cleaning of curtains, for example, laundry or steam cleaning 6-12 monthly, and whenever visibly soiled.”

The Community Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) Team have produced a wide range of innovative educational and IPC resources designed to assist your care home in achieving compliance with The Health and Social Care Act 2008: Code of Practice on the prevention and control of infections, related guidance, and CQC registration requirements which can be found online.

Reducing infection in care homes requires a multi-faceted approach, and proper laundry practices can play an important role. By following these guidelines and the advice from our industry experts in this piece, you can reduce the risk of infection transmission through laundry and promote a safer environment for staff and residents.