Laundering to kill Germs: Microbiological Decontamination of Textiles

Dr Katie Laird | View as single page | Feedback/Impact


The UK DoH states that domestically washed healthcare uniforms should be washed at 60 ºC for 10 minutes this is based on two literature searches and a study conducted at University College London.

“A wash for 10 minutes at 60ºC removes almost all micro-organisms. Washing with detergent at lower temperatures – down to 30ºC – eliminates MRSA and most other micro-organisms.”

(DoH, 2010)

A survey of 265 healthcare staff demonstrated that 47% of nurses laundered their uniforms below the recommended 60°C, with 26% wearing their uniform for two or more shifts before laundering. The use of 40°C was shown to be common, with 33% of respondents using this temperature, with the most commonly used detergent being biological (Riley, 2015).

The most common laundering practices used by nurses established in the 2015 study were then mimicked in a laboratory setting, as well as, assessing the survival of Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli survival on cotton and polyester fibres. The data showed that both bacteria were able to survive on polyester for up to seven days and on cotton for 21 days.

Poly/cotton (35/65%) swatches inoculated with high bacterial loads (108) to give a worst-case scenario, were washed at 40˚C and 60 ˚C using biological detergent.  Included in the wash were sterile swatches to determine cross contamination to other textiles in the wash

Data showed that a 40˚C wash did remove most microorganisms in terms of percentages but those cells that were left are in excess of 1000 cells and similar numbers were transferred to sterile items in the wash. When the swatches were washed at  60˚C no microorganisms survived or were transferred to sterile swatches (Riley 2017a & Riley 2017b)

This data highlights the need to wash textiles that could be deemed as sources of bacterial contamination at 60˚C with detergent, inadequate decontamination could result in the transfer of bacteria to other people or the environment.