When a family member or someone you live with gets sick, the first priority is helping them to get well again. However, another concern is preventing the spread of the illness to others in the household. Frequently disinfecting high-touch surfaces, like door knobs, sink faucets, and TV remotes as well as sanitizing soft surfaces like carpets can help stop the spread of germs. But those aren’t the only items you should focus on. Clothing, bed linens, towels, reusable cloth diapers, cleaning cloths, and other washable fabric items can harbor pathogens that make others sick, and a simple wash cycle might not be enough to sanitize.
Numerous studies have shown that skin, blood, feces, and saliva-borne pathogens can be transmitted by laundry. After all, laundry is a collector of human bodily waste, in addition to food residue, dirt, and germs from normal everyday activities. According to a recent study from the University of Arizona, just one item of contaminated clothing is enough to soil nearly an entire load of laundry. “We’ve found that one germy item in the washer will spread to 90% of the other items,” Kelly Reynolds, Environmental Microbiologist and Associate Professor of Environmental Health at the University of Arizona says. And no, it doesn’t matter how hot you set the water temperature on your machine. “When it comes to molds that cause skin or respiratory infections, or organisms that cause colds, flu and stomach flu, most of them will survive the wash cycle,” Reynolds adds.
Another study found that improper handling of soiled linens by laundry staff in nursing homes can lead to repeated outbreaks of salmonella gastroenteritis, a common disease found in community healthcare settings.
How Long Can Germs Live on Laundry?
While respiratory viruses, including SARS-CoV-2 (the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19) and colds and flu viruses can survive for hours – or even days – on soft surfaces like clothing, bedding, and linens. Viruses that cause diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach flu can survive on soft surfaces for weeks. Bacteria can also survive for weeks, and, under certain conditions, can even grow and thrive in stored laundry.
Why is Laundry Such a Germ Magnet?
Well, in short, we leave behind lots of appealing things for bacteria to eat in our clothing, bedding (especially our pillowcases) and cleaning tools like dishcloths, washcloths, and bath towels. Germs survive better when they’re surrounded by dirt, skin cells, or bodily fluids like saliva and mucus. This is why it’s important to have a strategy for proper handling and washing of laundry, especially when someone at home is sick with a communicable disease.
Additionally, experts recommend taking extra precautions when handling and washing the clothes of individuals who work in healthcare settings or another field where they have contact with sick patients or with animals. Since their professional clothing could possibly be contaminated with a wide range of germs, it should always be washed separately from the family laundry, and sanitized every time to help prevent the potential spread of pathogens to other household members.
A little extra cleaning power can help keep you and your family healthy. Use these laundry sanitizing tips to wash away germs.
First, grab some gloves
Before you touch a sick person’s laundry, one of the best things you can do to protect yourself is to wear disposable gloves. The idea here is to avoid spreading the contamination to your hands or other surfaces in your home. At the very least, make sure to keep the soiled laundry away from your face and body and wash your hands immediately after handling. Once the laundry is in the washer, remove the gloves, put them in the trash, and wash your hands again right away. Before you move the clean items to the dryer (or hang them to dry), wash your hands again and put on a fresh pair so that you don’t reinfect them.
While you’re gathering the sick person’s laundry and transferring it to the laundry room, be careful to not shake or shift soiled laundry any more than necessary. When dirty clothes are riled up, viral particles can get tossed into the air.
Reach for Vital Oxide
Whether it be mold, a bacteria or virus, or something else, whatever triggered the illness can likely survive a hot wash cycle. A disinfectant, such as Vital Oxide, added to your load along with a fragrance-free laundry detergent does a much better job getting rid of pathogens. Still, hot water can’t hurt. Use the warmest water setting the items can take, and wash them according to the maker’s instructions. Use 1/2 cup of Vital Oxide (full-strength, directly from the bottle) for a regular-sized load with an average amount of soil. Use 1 cup of Vital Oxide if your load is extra-large or heavily soiled.
After you’ve put the laundry into the washing machine, clean and disinfect the high-touch points in the laundry area (door handles, washer dials, etc.), as well as any surfaces that the contaminated laundry may have come into contact with, like the laundry basket, laundry hamper, countertops, tables, etc. First spray and wipe the surfaces with Vital Oxide to cut dirt and germs, then spray Vital Oxide and let air dry to kill any pathogens left over. Be sure that the surface stays damp for the proper dwell time (this can be found on the label).
Clean your washer
If you have a sick person in your home, or if you have just washed a heavily soiled load of laundry, it’s important to clean and sanitize your washer to avoid cross-contamination before using it again. Follow these three simple steps to de-germ your washing machine:
- Set the temperature on hot, and select “extra rinse.”
- Add ½ cup Vital Oxide.
- Run the cycle with the washer empty.