How to Care for Your NHS Uniform
By Peter Gretton, Senior Fabric Technologist at Alexandra (www.alexandra.co.uk/garment-care.com)
A clean and defect-free uniform provides the first step towards adequate infection prevention and control, something which has been a heightened priority since the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many NHS Trusts have since changed how staff uniforms are laundered, with many onsite laundries now only being used for uniforms soiled with highly contentious substances (e.g. surgical gowns). All other garments should now be washed at home.
As a result of this change, we caught up with Peter Gretton, Senior Fabric Technologist at Alexandra, a leading uniform provider in the healthcare sector, to help staff understand how they can properly care for their NHS uniforms.
Is it safe to wash medical uniforms at home?
Recent studies have shown that every washing cycle element helps remove microorganisms from uniform fabric, including detergents, agitation, and temperature. The expert report, which is still regularly cited by the NHS, concludes that there is little effective difference between domestic and commercial laundering in removing microorganisms from uniforms and workwear.
How should you clean your NHS uniform at home?
When it comes to washing your uniform at home, it isn’t much different from washing any of your other garments. However, for best results, in line with NHS guidance, we recommend washing at 60ºC to remove almost all microorganisms and washing uniforms separately from other clothing items.
How to maintain your uniform hygiene when washing clothes at home
To reduce the risk of contamination, we have several measures that you can put into place when cleaning your uniform at home.
1) Starting every day with a new uniform and always bringing a spare change of clothes to work just in case. Should your uniform become visibly soiled, you’ll then be able to change into the extra set before helping other patients.
2) Maintaining your washing machine and tumble dryer properly according to the manufacturer’s recommendations, and cleaning both out regularly.
3) Ensuring not to overload the washing machine when washing soiled uniforms because an overloaded machine will not clean the clothing effectively.
4) Washing your hands often with soap and warm water before and after handing the uniforms.
How do you limit contamination of clothing & person in daily duties?
Caring for your uniform now extends to your daily responsibilities. Our top tips to ensure you maintain hygienic and professional-looking garments include:
• Wear short-sleeved tops and do not wear white coats during patient care activities. This is because wrist cuffs quickly become contaminated and often contact patients.
• Change into and out of uniforms at work, or cover your uniform entirely when travelling to and from work. While no research indicates a higher infection risk from travelling in uniforms, public members believe it to be unhygienic.
• Maintain short, clean and unvarnished fingernails because long nails are harder to clean and can be hazardous.
• Don’t wear any jewellery or wrist-watches on the hands or wrists during direct patient care activity (some Trusts may permit a wedding ring). Accessories can harbour microorganisms and make effective hand hygiene more difficult.
• Wear soft-soled shoes closed over the foot and toes because they offer protection from spills and dropped objects.
Why is it important to care for your NHS uniform?
There are three reasons why properly caring for your NHS uniform is essential: patient safety, public confidence and staff comfort.
1. Patient safety
Maintaining good hygiene to prevent the transmission of infections is a top priority for healthcare staff. Therefore, the clothing staff members wear should enable the practice of care and minimise the risk of infection to patients.
The NHS states: “Uniforms and workwear should not impede effective hand hygiene and should not unintentionally come into contact with patients during direct patient care activities,” so any unnecessary accessories, tools or jewellery should be removed when on shift.
2. Public confidence
The way medical staff appear has a significant impact on the patient perception of the care standards they receive. As patients should have complete trust in the cleanliness and safety of the hospital, staff uniforms must remain clean and professional at all times.
3. Staff comfort
The NHS advice states: “As far as possible, subject to the overriding requirements of patient safety and public confidence, staff should feel comfortable in their uniforms.”
Under these conditions, ‘feeling comfortable’ includes respecting colleagues’ cultural practices and wearing breathable NHS uniforms that regulate the wearer’s body temperature.
Find out more about Alexandra and how to care for your garments at www.alexandra.co.uk/garment-care