In recent years, there’s been a move to washing laundry at lower temperatures, like 40C or even cooler. This is great in some ways as it saves energy and money and it’s kinder to clothes. Unfortunately, washing clothes and linens at lower temperatures means that sometimes bacteria, viruses and other microbes survive. Not only do they make it through the cycle, but they can transfer from contaminated garments or towels onto all the others.
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Bacteria are a fact of life; some are actually beneficial to us while others are essential for life as we know it! Sadly though, some cause illnesses and other infections and these are the ones we aim to eliminate in the washing machine. Some items of laundry present more risk than others – socks, underwear, baby clothes (poo, wee and spit-up galore!), towels and kitchen cloths, not to mention reusable nappies. Including items like these in a regular 30C or 40C wash can result in a contaminated, potentially infectious batch of not-so-clean laundry.
Family illness increases infection risk
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Sometimes illness strikes, especially where there’s young children involved. There’s common illnesses like stomach bugs, coughs and colds, as well as the less-frequent diseases like chickenpox and impetigo. When one or more family member has one (and hopefully it is only one bug at a time!), your laundry will need special measures.
If one of you has diarrhoea and vomiting, chickenpox, or any other infectious illness, then you’ll have to either wash your laundry at a higher temperature (ideal for towels and bedding) or add a disinfectant for lower temperatures.
Other tips for extra-hygienic laundry
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Use soluble laundry bags when there’s illness in the family. You can collect soiled bedding, towels and clothes in the bag and simply pop it into your washing machine. These bags are available from companies like Regal Disposables and they are designed to dissolve in water that’s warmer than 20C. This means once the clothes are collected, they’re sealed off from the environment until they’re being washed.
Launder things like dishcloths, tea towels and other kitchen cloths separately from other loads and use either a high temperature or a disinfectant.
If you use reusable nappies, make sure you dispose of any solid waste into the toilet before you wash them. Use a pre-wash before a hot wash to make sure all material is removed.
Don’t be tempted to pre-wash or sluice contaminated items by hand at either the bathroom or the kitchen sink – you could easily contaminate the area.
Wash baby clothes with regular loads (unless there’s been a bug), but add a disinfectant to the machine. If your baby is ill in any way, wash their clothes separately.
Remove laundry from the machine as soon as it’s finished, as damp, warm clothes form the ideal environment for bugs to multiply. If you know you’ll be out when the load finishes, use the no rinse setting until you get home.
Every month or so, perform a tub clean with a proprietary washing machine cleaner, and make sure you leave the door and detergent tray open after each wash so the insides of the machine can dry out.
Last, but certainly not least, always wash your hands after touching dirty laundry.