Laundry treatments at high and low temperatures

The process of laundering contaminated linen (including clothing) requires treatment that is effectively a wash-based disinfection process, and is required to avoid cross infection from re-used items.

Contaminated linen is generated by hospitals, care homes, nursing homes and similar facilities, as well as in the home care setting; anywhere that care of the sick and infirm is undertaken. The nature of laundry soiling depends on the source, and at the most extreme levels, eg in hospital and nursing home environments, is likely to include blood, wound exudates, sputum, saliva, sweat and urine, as well as vomit and faeces. It is also important to recognise that bloodstained body wastes such as urine may also serve as a potential source of infection. The nature of the soiling will determine how contaminated items are sorted and processed, and current UK categorisation recommends sorting into used linen (soiled and foul), infected linen and heat labile linen categories.

Infected linen is defined as linen derived from known infectious patients, including those with HIV, hepatitis B, C and other infectious agents. Linen can be made safe by washing to remove any contaminating body fluids, but it is often not practical to wash domestic linen at high temperatures because of the heat lability of fabrics. Recommended wash conditions, based on the levels of soiling, are as follows:

Current recommended treatments to ensure cleaning and disinfection of used (soiled and foul) linen

Current recommended treatment to ensure disinfection of heat labile linen

Existing guidance states that in the community setting or elsewhere without access to specialist services, contaminated clothing or linen should be treated in one of the following ways:

The reality of domestic laundering may be somewhat different from this ideal for those living with BBV in the home environment. Domestic washing machines rarely have an 80oC setting. If this is the case, if contamination is not excessive, all potentially contaminated linen should be washed at the highest possible temperature recommended for that particular fabric. The combination of temperature (when more than 40oC), detergent action and dilution effect during the wash and rinse steps, will contribute to the process of soil removal and disinfection for the washed item.

Recommendations for work wear laundering are also available from the Department of Health

Updated 2022-05-13