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Coronavirus ‘can remain active on nurses’ uniforms for up to 72 hours’

Study suggests work clothes should be washed on site to prevent contamination in homes

Study suggests work clothes should be washed on site to prevent contamination in homes

Nurses uniforms could harbour viruses similar to the strain that causes COVID-19 for up to 72 hours, unless washed at 40C with detergent, a study suggests.

While researchers found that washing uniforms at this temperature with detergent removed the virus, traces could transfer to other surfaces before they were washed.

Observing a model coronavirus on sample fabrics

The findings have prompted researchers to recommend uniforms be washed at workplace laundries, where available, to prevent staff taking home contaminated items and potentially spreading a coronavirus.

All healthcare uniforms should be washed on site at hospitals

Study suggests work clothes should be washed on site to prevent contamination in homes

A researcher washing uniforms as part of the study
Washing at 40°C with detergent will remove the virus

Nurses’ uniforms could harbour viruses similar to the strain that causes COVID-19 for up to 72 hours, unless washed at 40°C with detergent, a study suggests.

While researchers found that washing uniforms at this temperature with detergent removed the virus, traces could transfer to other surfaces before they were washed.

Observing a model coronavirus on sample fabrics

The findings have prompted researchers to recommend uniforms be washed at workplace laundries, where available, to prevent staff taking home contaminated items and potentially spreading a coronavirus.

‘All healthcare uniforms should be washed on site at hospitals or at an industrial laundry’

Katie Laird, principal investigator on the study and head of the Infectious Disease Research Group, De Montfort University Leicester

The De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) study, which is undergoing peer review, looked at how COVID-19 might behave on three fabrics commonly used for healthcare staff uniforms.

Droplets of a model coronavirus called HCoV-OC43 – which has a similar structure and survival pattern to that of SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19 – were added to polyester, polycotton and 100% cotton fabrics. Researchers then monitored the stability of the virus on each material for 72 hours.

They found polyester poses the highest risk for transmission, with the virus still present after three days and able to transfer to other surfaces.

On 100% cotton, the virus lasted for 24 hours, while on polycotton, the virus only survived for six hours.

Guidance on washing uniforms

NHS guidance on uniforms and workwear states:

  • There is little effective difference between domestic and commercial laundering in terms of removing micro-organisms from uniforms and workwear
  • Washing with detergents at 30°C will remove most micro-organisms, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)
  • A ten-minute wash at 60°C is sufficient to remove almost all micro-organisms

Source: NHS England and NHS Improvement

Katie Laird, the study’s principal investigator
The study’s principal investigator, Katie Laird

Concerns about ‘taking the virus home’

Principal investigator and microbiologist Katie Laird, head of DMU’s Infectious Disease Research Group, said while washing materials at a high temperature, even in a domestic washing machine, does remove the virus, it does not eliminate the risk of the contaminated clothing leaving traces of coronavirus on other surfaces before washing.

‘My recommendation is that all healthcare uniforms should be washed on site at hospitals or at an industrial laundry,’ Dr Laird said.

‘These wash methods are regulated, and nurses and healthcare workers do not have to worry about potentially taking the virus home.’


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