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Half of hospital staff failing to 'adequately wash uniforms at home'


Academics have called for national guidelines on washing nurse uniforms, after research revealed almost half of hospital staff are failing to clean them at temperatures hot enough to kill most bacteria.

Researchers from De Montfort University in Leicester found 49% of hospital staff did not wash their uniforms at the recommended 60°C temperature. They surveyed 265 hospital staff at four East Midlands hospitals.

“The study highlights the importance of research in this area to determine… whether a return to in-house laundering is the most appropriate solution”

Kate Riley

The Department of Health released guidance in 2010 stating that uniforms should be washed at the highest temperature suitable for the fabric and that a 10-minute wash at 60°C is sufficient to remove most microorganisms.

However, the temperature requirements set by each hospital varied, ranging from a minimum of 50 degrees to 75 degrees.

The study also revealed that many staff were failing to follow guidelines across a range of others areas in relation to cleaning their uniforms, which the researchers said could increase the risk of spreading healthcare-associated infections.

It found varying and “imprecise” advice was being provided between hospital trusts, which may be adding to confusion for staff who move to different organisations.

To tackle this inconsistency, the researchers have also recommended uniform washing is moved back to hospitals, rather than workers doing it themselves at home.

The study found that 40% of those surveyed were cleaning their uniforms with everyday clothes, although there were differences between different departments. Staff working in infectious areas – such as surgical wards, critical care units and emergency departments – were more likely to launder their uniforms separately than those in non-infectious departments.

Again, the hospital guidelines varied, with two stating that uniforms should be washed separately from other items and the other two providing no set requirement.

Meanwhile, around three-quarters of respondents said they cleaned their uniforms following every shift, while 23% reported only changing their uniform after every other shift. In addition, 3% said they changed their uniform after three shifts or more.

This is despite guidelines set by three out of the four hospitals stating that uniforms should be changed daily.

Two thirds of respondents either rarely or never tumble-dried their uniforms, which is against three of the hospital’s guidelines which recommend tumble-drying or drying quickly, added the researchers.

The study also found uniforms were commonly – in 78% of cases – used for more than 18 months before being replaced.

The researchers concluded that “the DH guidelines that have filtered down to hospital trusts are imprecise”.

“The development of national guidelines for domestic laundering of healthcare uniforms would ensure greater clarity for staff on how to launder their uniforms, especially when transferring to a different hospital trust,” it added.

Report co-author Kate Riley, a PhD student at the university, said: “The study highlights the importance of research in this area to determine the overall effectiveness of domestic laundering and deciding whether a return to in-house laundering is the most appropriate solution.”


Readers' comments (33)

  • There is a conflict of advice, on the one hand we are told to use less energy and hence use cooler washes, with detergent manufacturers suggesting that their products are good enough at the lower temperatures, and to avoid using tumble driers; on the other hand we are now being told to wash our uniforms by themselves on a daily basis at 60 degrees and tumble dry them. I don't understand the necessity for drying the clothes rapidly, what does it achieve?
    I wash my uniform at 60 degrees with other clothes that need that temperature, I certainly don't wash them after every shift, although I do wear a clean uniform every shift.

    A ten minute wash at 60 degrees is impossibly short, no washing machine programme is that short.

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  • Doesn't sound as if the researchers have taken into account dilution factor when washing or ironing of uniforms - thermal disinfection!

    Wearing a uniform more than once though - eewwww

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  • All uniforms should be left inside the hospital. All hospitals should have facilities for laundering them. I cannot tell you how much of the horrors it gives me to see nursing staff, in uniform, wandering about in the supermarket, picking up their children from school and otherwise treating their uniform as though it is simply casual wear. The patients don't deserve treatment from someone in uniform, who has been everywhere in it and the general public certainly don't deserve to be exposed to whatever is on that uniform from a hospital shift.
    A uniform is for working in and should be removed and left in the place of work. There should be no discussion about how it is to be laundered at home.

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  • I washed my student uniform at 60 once and it shrank.

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  • Why on earth would you want to take your uniform home ?
    Anyone who does needs their intelligence level tested

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  • Nurses have no choice Eduardo, the expectation is we take our uniforms home in the UK to wash. There are no facilities in hospital in the UK for nurses uniforms to be washed.

    Has anyone considered the fact that most trusts do not allocate more than 3 unifroms and the cost of washing at 60 degrees plus tumble drying for one piece of clothing is ££££. And finding a moment when the washing machine is free to wash only 1 item. I know nurses who wait up for their uniforms to be washed after nights shifts as they do not have enough- this is rediculous!!

    We have been shouting about this for a long time. Thank you Leicester for providing evidence of cureent practice. Maybe people will develop systems to help us do our job efficently and effectively and this will not be used to just shout the same message!

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  • When I first qualified in the early 1990s, I was allocated eight uniforms that were washed by the hospital laundry. Now, over twenty years later, I have two uniforms that I have to wash at home. Progress eh?

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  • I'm confused by anon 12:51pm. You don't wash your uniform after every shift but you wear a clean uniform every shift? Do you wait to wash them all together?
    I had to laugh at the section where uniforms should be replaced after 18 months!!!
    I've had mine 5 years now and the ones previous to that were literally beyond repair before they were replaced.
    I wouldn't dream of leaving my uniforms in the hospital to be washed. Our trust policy is instant dismissal if caught wearing a uniform to and from work. We must get changed before and after each shift and I always wash mine on a 60!

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  • Pussy

    Well mine is all polyester so what happens when I wash it hot? Yes right first time-impossible permanent creases resistant to all forms if ironing.

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  • Our trust doesn't issue guidelines on washing our uniforms. As for the tumble dryer, I don't have one, or space for one. The hospitals should wash them not us. The two London hospitals that I worked in years ago laundered our uniforms. I wash my uniforms at 60, and mostly line dry them.

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