Before automatic washing machines, dryers and laundromats, there was the copper boiler. All soiled linen, towels and work wear were immersed in boiling water before being placed into the basic washing machines of the day. Delicate items escaped this punishing regime, but everyday clothing that could survive the process also received their weekly dunking.
Keeping Bacteria Under Control in Past Days
It was a labour intensive chore requiring physical strength and great care to prevent burns. A thick, wooden stick was used to lift the sodden washing out of the boiler and into either washtubs or washing machines. This harsh treatment removed most of the stains and dirt and also killed bacteria still living on the dirty clothes and linen.
Fast forward to the present where automatic machines and dryers require just loading and pressing a button. We would never want to go back to those days where gentle detergents, scented fabric softeners and the negative effects on the environment were unknown. There is no doubt, however, that washing in very hot water prevented diseases spread during the washing process.
Gentle Detergents and Low Water Temperatures Increase the Risk
At NLE Commercial we supply a leading range of commercial and industrial laundry equipment in all sizes and configurations. The commercial laundries that we supply are very aware of this risk and have stringent procedures in place to prevent bacteria spreading between washing loads. Our gentle, modern detergents and low-temperature washing cycles can increase the risk of bacteria surviving the wash and staying on the clean clothes.
Live Bacteria Can Survive the Washing Cycle
A recent US study found live bacteria in clean household laundry, specifically on undergarments, in sufficient quantities to cause infection. In a typical wash, where all types of garments are washed together as recommended by machine manufacturers, these bacteria can transfer to items like tea towels, face clothes and towels. Low-temperature machine settings allow germs to grow in the detergent drawers and door seals of the average washing machine.
Can this be prevented? As we said earlier, commercial laundries and laundromats are aware of this risk and take steps to prevent it. For the householder or small laundromat owner, we offer some suggestions to keep laundry bacteria free.
Prevention is Easy and Inexpensive
If the manufacturer’s instructions allow, run your washing machine through a regular cycle without clothes in it, after cleaning the inside with bleach and water. A good hygiene habit to adopt when washing in cold or lukewarm water is to wash your hands after handling wet clothes. This prevents germs transferring from wet clothes to hands and beyond.
Sunshine is free and is as effective as bleach at killing bacteria. Where possible, ignore the dryer and hang the washing on the line. Being aware of the dangers is the first step in eliminating them.