Yet, no one seems to have the time to explain the science of laundry, even though it could boost your efficiency and wash results.
Our laundry expert, Dean Constable, is filling the gap with this series on laundry practices.
Correct Sorting & Loading
Our second topic is sorting linens and loading washes.
It’s one of the core elements of laundry practices, but little attention is paid to how it’s done. It might even be delegated to a junior member of staff.
How do you deliver laundry results from sorting and loading that:
- holds standards for AS4146:2000, to maintain your facility’s accreditation,
- keep your residents safe and comfortable, and
- curb your costs?
By organising your linen and workspace in the best way possible.
1. Collecting Linen
Cross-contamination isn’t limited to the laundry room. Sorting linen as you collect it increases efficiency, maintains good wash results and keeps your staff safe.
First, check over your laundry bags. Do they have holes or tears? These could cause linen to wear out or become contaminated.
Second, what’s in with the linen that shouldn’t be? Anything that doesn’t go in the washes – sharp objects, food, metal, paper, etc. – is “foreign matter” and should be removed.
Third, how do you gather the linen? Are your bags consistently over-filled? You’re risking a spillage, which decreases efficiency and could cause contamination.
Last, and most important – are you sorting linen at the point of collection? It’s key to have separate linen bags for the different soil levels:
- Lightly soiled
- Contaminated or infectious linen
Infectious linen includes heavily soiled linen containing blood or other bodily fluids. This laundry should be transported in a suitable sealed laundry bag to prevent contamination.
Dissolvable laundry bags are best practice for infectious linen. These bags dissolve during the wash process, so the laundry staff have no contact with it until it has been disinfected and is safe to handle.
2. Correct Sorting
There are two important things to consider when sorting:
- Your space, and
- Your processes
Your laundry space should be optimised for efficiency and infection control, as recommended in the 2012 Codes of Practice for Public Healthcare Operated Laundries and Linen Services.
When you don’t have an optimised space, the outcomes can be:
- Cross-contamination from clean linen being loaded into dirty trolleys.
- Workplace injuries from manual loading and unloading of washers, due to a lack of space for trolleys.
- Poor wash results from mixing linens into incorrect wash loads.
In one aged care facility Dean visited, the laundry had no dedicated sorting area, with no space to separate clean & dirty linen areas.
The laundry staff would use all their linen trolleys to sort the dirty linen. Then clean linen was immediately loaded onto the same trolleys, and became contaminated.
These problems can be prevented by following the recommended laundry workflow guidance:
- First, does your laundry have a dedicated sorting area, where staff can safely sort through linen and establish correct wash loads?
- Second, is your laundry designed to prevent cleaned linen being contaminated by soiled linen? This can be achieved by allowing a space barrier of at least 2m, although having a physical barrier is the best option to separate clean from soiled linen.
- Third, is your laundry well ventilated to minimise air contamination? Air flow should always be directed from clean areas to dirty areas.
Best practice sorting processes will maximise your wash results and prevent problems like stained white linens from colour leakage, and insufficient cleaning due to mixed soil levels.
The efficiency and safety of your laundry depends on your staff. The best laundries provide regular training on their cleaning programs and safe working procedures, including chemical handling.
When sorting linen all staff must use appropriate PPE – gloves, aprons, masks – and wash their hands when sorting is completed.
There are a few main categories to follow when sorting linen, they are:
- Soil level
- Linen type
- Colours vs white
As mentioned in Collecting Linen, there are 3 grades:
- Lightly soiled
These 3 grades need to be in separate washes, as different processes and wash cycles will get the best results for each.
Avoid mixing cottons with polyester as this will have adverse effects on wash results. For example, if polyester sheets are mixed with cotton towels:
- The sheets will wrap up the towels inside them and affect their ability to be washed.
- The towels will absorb more water and chemicals than sheets, giving uneven disinfection.
- Their required drying times will be different, so drying them together will be inefficient and may cause damage.
Some linens can be mixed as they are made from similar textiles. For example, cotton blankets, towels, bibs and feeders can be processed together, as they are all made from cotton.
Colours vs White
Avoid mixing colours & whites, as this can cause staining.
You should have a cleaning program setup for the entire laundry.
This cleaning program should include:
- Cleaning the lint traps on the dryers (staff should follow the manufacturers’ recommendations for cleaning, as this is a fire hazard).
- Disinfecting all areas of the washing machine – doors, handles, screens, buttons, etc.
- Wiping over washing machine door seals every day, to avoid build up which may cause the washers to leak.
- Vacuuming all areas to remove dust and lint.
- Mopping all floors.
- Cleaning all benches.
- Disinfecting both clean and dirty trolleys.
Once linen is sorted, staff can now load the linen into the washers.
Efficient loading is essential to wash results. Dean recommends these guidelines:
- Towelling – fill all available space
- Bed linen – leave a 15cm space at the top
- Contaminated linen – reduce load by 25%
To verify your loading, check the fall of linen during the washing process. When the linen is correctly loaded, the linen will be wet and the barrel will be rotating, causing the linen to ‘fall’ (fit into a smaller space).
After the washer is correctly loaded, staff should follow these steps:
- Remove soiled gloves. (This is critical to prevent surface contamination)
- Close washer door.
- Select the wash formula on the washer that matches the linen loaded, i.e., Infectious cycle.
Sorting After the Wash
To make sure all your hard work doesn’t go to waste, keep your sorting game up even after the wash.
- Transport the washed linen (in a clean linen trolley) to the dryers for processing.
- Maintain the correct sorting in the drying process – mixed loads will dry at different times and prolong the drying stage, which can damage and discolour linen.
Understanding the reasoning behind sorting & loading in your laundry is key to safe operation.
A thorough approach encompasses your entire laundry process to avert cross-contamination and increase efficiency. This includes:
- Collecting linen,
- Optimising your laundry space,
- Using best practice sorting processes,
- Loading efficiently, and
- Maintaining sorted loads into the drying stage.
Good laundry practices ensure consistent wash quality, disinfection, and product life.