The awareness of medical professionals for infection control is high. But, the pandemic taught us that an even higher level of vigilance is to control and prevent infection, and disinfecting your scrubs is part of the challenge.
One of the fronts of the war on infection is the sterile processing of scrub uniforms worn on the job. Surgical attire needs special attention to ensure that medical professionals are part of the solution and not part of the problem! So, this post details seven dos and don’ts of surgical attire to ensure we’re effective in our struggle against the spread of infection in clinical settings.
Let’s review the process of getting your scrubs to “sterile.”
1. DO Wash Scrubs Separately
Infection control starts at home, so separate your scrubs from other household laundry using a specific hamper (preferably one with a lid and a plastic liner that can be regularly wiped clean with an antibacterial agent). Immunocompromised family members should use protective gloves when doing the laundry to prevent the transfer of pathogens.
Don’t wash your scrubs with other laundry. And if you change into your street clothes before leaving work, place your scrubs in a sealed bag where they should stay until wash day.
2. DO a Stain Check
Don’t just throw those scrubs in the machine when wash day arrives. Give them a good going over first to check them for stains. You must get those stains out, whether blood or coffee! Your surgical attire should be pristine to inspire patient confidence, sending a message of trustworthy sterility.
Treat stains before washing with diluted bleach or vinegar (blood) or one part vinegar and two parts water (coffee).
3. DO Two-Stage Washing
Your first stage of disinfecting surgical attire is a cold water wash in the normal setting. Turn your scrubs inside out to prevent deterioration of the fabric’s right side. If stains are still evident, don’t move on to stage 2, a hot water wash that will set any residual stains. Instead, soak garments in water-diluted bleach to remove the residue.
Only proceed to the hot water wash once all stains are gone.
4. DON’T Use Undiluted Bleach
Bleach will remove blood stains, but using it on your scrubs without diluting it with water is a recipe for disaster. The fibers in your scrubs will deteriorate. Bleach can also cause discoloration when not properly diluted before use.
Use bleach in your washer, but add it to the water before the clothes go in!
5. DO Dry On a High Heat
Heat is disinfection’s best friend because heat goes where other disinfecting agents can’t! So, when you dry your surgical attire, use the highest setting on your dryer. Thirty minutes on a high heat kills bacteria and other pathogens that may still cling to the wet fabric.
Wait to dry for 30 minutes.
6. DON’T Skip Ironing
Ironing your scrubs (again, on the highest setting the fabric will bear) is the final step to ensuring they’re sterile and ready for use. As I said above, heat is disinfection’s BFF, so iron your scrubs thoroughly.
7. DO Secure Your Disinfected Scrubs
Securing your scrubs once disinfected ensures that your work is not in vain. Place them immediately into a secure, non-permeable bag like a large ziplock. Don’t remove your scrubs until it’s time to put them on.
One Final Step
Your washing machine has been exposed to bacteria and other pathogens, so it must be sterilized like all other equipment exposed to contaminants. Your family’s clothes get washed in there, too, so this is a measure of protection you should take.
Using a bleach/water solution of 1-10, fill a spray bottle and spray the entire inside of your washer. With the scrubbing side of a dish sponge, thoroughly scrub the lid of the machine and the tub. When you’re done, run the machine on a brief, hot cycle, using more bleach and water to finish.
Scrubs are essential to hospital and clinical dress codes, but if they’re not disinfected correctly, you could undermine the work of sterile processing professionals in your facility. These simple steps will keep you on the right side of the war on infection at home and work.