When you begin working in a medical setting, you are going to be exposed to germs and potential pathogens. While you can always wash your hands, your clothes may come into contact with bodily fluids, bacteria, and viruses. It’s important to disinfect your medical scrubs and uniforms after each use and to keep them away from your other clothes. This will help kill harmful germs embedded in the material and prevent your washing machine, dryer, and other clothes from exposure to pathogens.

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1.) Keep scrubs and uniforms separate from your other clothes.

Keep your medical scrubs separate from your other clothes. Put them in a separate hamper, and wash and dry them separately from your family’s clothing. If you change into regular clothes at work, keep a freezer bag or another sealable bag on hand to keep your soiled scrubs from touching your gym bag and personal items.

Don’t overload the washing machine if you have several pairs of scrubs to wash. The material should move around thoroughly in the soap. When you’re ready to wash your scrubs and medical uniforms, use latex gloves while handling them, treating them, and sending them through the first wash. If anyone in your family is immunocompromised, they should use gloves when working around the laundry room and your uniforms.

2.) Determine the material your scrubs are made from and follow washing instructions.

Some scrubs are made from 100% cotton, while others are made from a polyester and cotton blend. The type of material your scrubs are made of will determine the steps you take to disinfect your scrubs. Scrubs made from 100% cotton need to be washed in cold water, while the polyester and cotton blends should be washed in warm water.

If there are stains on your scrubs, ensure they are totally washed out before sending your scrubs through a second wash. Many nurses and doctors who use scrubs with a poly-cotton blend will send their scrubs through a second wash on hot to help kill any lingering bacteria. However, if you run scrubs through a hot cycle with stains still on them, it will cause the stains to set into the material.

If you’re washing your scrubs twice, make sure to turn them inside out before beginning the wash cycle. This will keep them from rubbing against each other on the outside and causing pills and pulls in the fabric, especially if they are 100% cotton or have details like zippers and buttons.  

3.) Use chlorine bleach for stains and blood.

Before washing your scrubs, check them over thoroughly for any stains caused by contact with bodily fluids, including blood and dyes from liquid medicines. Scrub them using cold water to help lift the stains from the material before putting them into the wash, or scrub them using a solution based on the type of stain. Do not hand-wash your scrubs; instead, scrub the stains only, and wash them in cold water until the stains lift out. White scrubs made of 100% cotton should be washed in a chlorine-based bleach. For colored scrubs and other types of materials, add a phenolic disinfectant or Pine-Sol to the warm water to disinfect the fabric. If your washer and dryer have a “Sanitize” setting, utilize that for your cycles.

If you’re sending a lab coat through the wash, don’t use bleach with it because it will wear away any buttons and logos. Instead, send it through the wash twice: once on cold with a detergent, and once on hot with Pine-Sol. This can help keep your coat looking fresh and not worn down or yellowed by the bleach. It’s also fine to use high-quality detergents that many companies recommend for medical clothing. However, it’s essential to ensure that the detergents you use are scent-free so they will not cause an allergic reaction or irritation to your patients.

4.) Iron your scrubs.

Unfortunately, most dryers only reach about 120°F on their highest heat setting, which is not hot enough to sanitize or disinfect your nursing scrubs. Dry your scrubs on the highest setting for at least 30 minutes first. Iron them, once you have sent them through the dryer, to kill any lingering germs and help them to look fresh and professional for their next wear.

5.) Don’t put your scrubs on at home.

To prevent contamination of your freshly disinfected medical clothing, put them in a dry-cleaning bag or plastic baggie and seal them until you reach your hospital or medical facility. This can keep them from coming into contact with germs outside of the facility or hospital, which can potentially cause patients to become ill. Instead, change into your scrubs when you arrive at work, and change out of them before you leave. 

6.) Disinfect your washing machine.

While most germs are probably gone after the second washing of your nursing scrubs, it’s always a good idea to run a cycle on your washing machine to ensure it’s disinfected. This is especially important before you run a load of regular clothes or if someone in your home is immunocompromised. Use ten parts bleach and one part water, mixing it in a spray bottle solution. Spray the inside drum of your washer and agitator, paying special care to get into any cracks and crevices where bacteria can build up. Use a sponge or scrubber to scrub the solution into the washing machine, and then run a hot cycle with bleach to finish disinfecting. To prevent transmitting infections from home to work, consider disinfecting your washing machine before washing your medical uniforms and scrubs. 

Final Thoughts

While it may seem like a lot of time, properly disinfecting your medical scrubs is a vital component to keeping contamination out of your home and workplace. If you’re especially concerned about cross-contamination, many hospitals will offer professional, medical-grade laundering services for their employees. For most nurses and doctors, however, disinfecting their medical attire at home is their preferred method.

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