What You Should Know About Nurse Scrubs and Bacteria

nurse scrubs

If you are a nurse, you know all about bacteria and how to protect yourself from it. You wash your hands often and wear your mask and gown when necessary. But have you ever stopped to think about how dirty your clothing gets during a shift?

You’re exposed to a lot throughout the course of your day (or night). And everything that you’re exposed to, your nurse scrubs are exposed to.

Do you know how you should handle your scrubs? If you are not following good practices someone could get sick. Members of your family are particularly susceptible for obvious reasons.

Here is some great advice on how to take care of your nurse scrubs the right way.

How Dirty Do Your Nurse Scrubs Get?

As a nurse, you spend most of your time in scrubs. You want comfortable, breathable scrubs because your job is already stressful enough. You’re always wanting to learn more about where you can find comfortable scrubs.

You’re concerned about comfort, but how often do you think about cleanliness? We may first need to convince you about how dirty your scrubs get during your shift. It’s natural for human beings to get desensitized to things they are around all the time.

If you don’t know what we mean, think about the first time you cleaned up someone’s puke. It may have really grossed you out and you wanted to puke yourself. Now you don’t even bat an eye.

The intrinsic level of the grossness of puke hasn’t changed. But you’ve been desensitized to it because of constant exposure.

In the same way, when you first started working you may have been more aware of your clothes. You may have gone straight home and dumped your clothes in the wash first thing. Now on a busy morning, you may pick up a dirty shirt, give it the sniff test, and toss it on.

Though that shirt may look clean, it isn’t. The intrinsic level of bacteria that contaminates your clothing hasn’t changed. You may have been desensitized to it, but it’s still really dirty.

Do You Need to Worry About Bacteria Contamination?

The short answer is, yes. But, in case you need convincing, here’s the long answer.

This study followed 10 nurses at a hospital in Washington State. They started each shift (both day and night) with sterilized uniforms. Within 48 hours the dangerous bacteria MRSA was present on 7 out of the 10 uniforms. And that was only one of the bacteria strains they found on the clothes.

And don’t think you’re out of the woods because you wear scrubs made from antimicrobial fabric. Duke University Hospital also did a study on nurse scrubs. They wanted to see if antimicrobial fabrics limited the number of bacteria on scrubs.

They tested 3 types of scrubs. These included

  • Regular cotton scrubs
  • Scrubs with a silver alloy in the fibers
  • Scrubs made with other antibacterial materials.

They followed 40 nurses for this study. They took over 5000 cultures from their clothes and the patient’s rooms. They found no significant difference in the presence of bacteria in the fabrics.

Instead, they found that scrubs got contaminated anew about 33% of the time. MRSA was one of the most often seen bacteria.

Don’t Wear Your Scrubs Around Town

Think about what that means. Your clothes could be dangerously dirty. What if you stop off at the grocery store on your way home from work? You could unwittingly expose a lot of people to some intense bacteria.

In fact, many countries, like the UK, Canada, and Australia have rules about this. They don’t allow you to wear scrubs and other hospital clothing outside of the hospital. The risk is too great.

It goes without saying, but you shouldn’t ever wear your scrubs for a second shift either. Always wash your scrubs between every shift. It doesn’t matter if they don’t look dirty. They are dirty.

How to Wash Your Scrubs

Now you understand how important it is to clean your nurse scrubs. Here are some tips on how to wash your scrubs and thoroughly disinfect them between uses.

You can wash cotton scrubs in cold water and dry them on your dryer’s lowest setting. Turn them inside out first to prevent wear on the outside finish. This can happen by rubbing against other the other clothing in the wash.

You can wash cotton-polyester mix fabrics in warm water. You can also bump the dryer heat up to regular. Don’t ever use hot water for either fabric type, though. This can set stains and wear your scrubs out faster.

Commercial fabric softeners are often scented, which can be bothersome to some patients. To avoid using them, toss a half cup of distilled white vinegar in with the rinse water.

How to Disinfect Your Scrubs

Washing your nurse scrubs is great, but you also have to disinfect them. This is how you can be sure that you kill all those harmful bacteria like MRSA.

It is a good idea to keep your dirty scrubs separate from other clothing. You won’t need to disinfect normal use clothing, but your dirty scrubs could infect it. Also, if the person who handles the laundry gets sick easily, gloves are a good idea.

For white cotton scrubs, you can toss chlorine bleach into the dispenser. The machine will release the bleach into the water at the right moment. Be aware that oxygen-based bleaches do not disinfect the way you need.

For everything else, you should use a pine oil based disinfectant. Be sure the brand you choose has at least 80% pine oil in the ingredients. Add this to the water at the beginning of the cycle.

Be Safe!

Being a nurse is a hard job and we’re glad that you’re willing to do it. Remember to take care of yourself and your family too.

Use your scrubs at work only and wash them well between shifts. For more great cleaning tips, be sure to check out the cleaning section of our blog.

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