By Jackie Hook, chemist from commercial laundry specialist, JLA (www.jla.com)
The care home setting is one that requires staff to work in close contact with residents, the majority of whom are extremely vulnerable to Covid-19 infection. With heightened concerns about the grow- ing second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, and care homes facing further difficulties with the winter months approaching, infection control remains a critical concern and is, arguably, now more important than ever.
Finding ways to keep staff members protected and residents as safe as possible, means that care home managers will be putting an increased emphasis on hygiene measures throughout their facilities. Specifically, keeping laundry clean, and most importantly, COVID- free, is crucial.
With research showing that the coronavirus infection can live on fabric and textiles for up to 3 days, below are some top tips and best practice for care home workers when storing, washing and handling laundry within the residence.
STORING DIRTY LINEN
As studies demonstrate that coronavirus can survive on linen for up to 72 hours, it is important that linen, or any fabric that residents or staff come into contact with, is removed, stored and washed as safely as possible.
For workers, when removing infected laundry and bed linen from residents’ rooms, it is recommended that the linen is not rinsed, shaken or sorted but carefully placed in a red soluble bag, tied and then secured in a secondary bag. This should then be placed directly into the allocated laundry trolley.
Similarly, once this has been done, laundry baskets must be stored in a designated and safe area, away from the residents and members of staff. This should be done before the laundry is washed or whilst awaiting collection from a contractor.
KEEPING LAUNDRY COVID-FREE
It is important that linen is processed as quickly as possible and not left overnight for washing. This will ensure any stains are not allowed to dry into the fabric and reduce the microbial challenge.
When washing the laundry, whether onsite or through a contractor, not only is it essential to do this safely, it is also worth researching the washing system that is being used to see how effective it is at removing the coronavirus infection.
There are now systems available that have undergone extensive testing to demonstrate just how effective they are at removing the coronavirus infection, with factors such as optimum temperature and load capacity being carefully monitored and reviewed.
Not only does investing in a tested system help protect care home residents, but it also places confidence in the staff, with families of residents feeling safe in the knowledge that everything is being done to ensure the safety of their loved ones.
SUPPORTING THE WASHING OF STAFF UNIFORM
Another way to ensure that any potential traces of coronavirus are removed effectively from any fabric or linen within the care home, could be by having health workers’ uniforms washed and stored on site, rather than items being taken home. Using commercial washing machines provides better control of the wash process in comparison to domestic washers. They are not designed to deal with infected linen nor are they normally compliant with UK water regulations to deal with this category of work.
As discussed by Dr Katie Laird, reader in microbiology and head of the infectious disease research group at De Montfort University Leicester ‘by taking uniforms home, (care) workers run the risk of contaminating their home environment’. By using a laundering facility for healthcare uniforms directly in the care home, infection control can be effectively treated and minimised transmission of the virus can be assured as fabrics are not being taken to and from the care facility after they have been worn.
As a key public-facing industry, the care sector is quickly having to stay up to date with new measures surrounding infection control. In an environment where incorrect handling, processing and storage of linen can present a preventable risk, investing in the right laundry facility and hygiene measures, can help to keep resi- dents safe, workers happy and families reassured that their loved ones are as protected from this virus as they can be.