Laundering microfibre cleaning cloths
Microfibre is, by design, a superior cleaning agent that attracts and holds onto a variety of organic and inorganic soils. If these contaminants are not effectively removed by the laundering process there will be a rapid deterioration in cleaning efficacy and increased risk for staff and building occupants. Microfibre cloths can act as an ideal breeding ground for bacteria growth and cross contamination, writes Brian Clark.
It is important that healthcare cleaning managers look closely at the care and maintenance of microfibre mops and cloths, with a particular emphasis on effective laundering procedures and protocols.
Manufacturers agree that microfibre needs to be washed separately from other fabrics in a dedicated wash cycle, and this must be emphasised if valuable cloths are sent to an external laundry where you have no control over the wash process. If microfibre is washed with towelling or other fabrics it will pick up all the loose fibre and hair in the wash which will greatly affect its efficiency. Other risks include cross contamination and shrinkage, and fibre damage from incompatible chemicals and high temperature during the washing and drying processes.
The ideal solution is to install commercial laundry equipment with wash programs dedicated to microfibre. The more efficient the machine, the less the cost as microfibre can be washed and processed quickly, minimising the number of stock holding.
Commercial frontload washers start at 6kg capacity and there are commercial 10KG front load washer and dryers which can process several hundred 30gm cloths and mops an hour, while higher capacity programmable machines with heat are applicable for larger facilities.
Machine selection is critical with the focus on programmable wash cycles, minimum water use, maximum soil extraction and fast throughput. Domestic machines and top loaders should be avoided for many reasons including durability and spin speed. Extraction is critical as microfibre tenaciously holds on to soil and minimum spin speeds of 1100 RPM and 300 G are essential.
It is important to seek advice from the manufacturer and partner with a chemical company which employs laundry specialists. Ideally, washers should be fitted with detergent feed pumps to minimise waste and optimise wash performance and wash consistency.
Microfibre is produced from a blend of polyester and polyamide fibres and generally exhibits good chemical resistance, but may be susceptible to damage by strong alkali, particularly when laundered in conjunction with Quaternary Ammonium Compounds . Colour loss may also occur with bleaches.1 Chemical damage and loss of efficiency may also be caused by incompatible wash chemicals, strong bleach and other oxidisers, limonene and other hydrocarbon wash solvents, softeners and cationic disinfectants, though manufacturers warnings vary.
Disinfection is critical as cloths and mops are contaminated with microorganisms. Australian NHMRC guidelines are vague and refer to the Australian Standard AS/NZS4146—2000 Laundry Practice as a guideline for laundering fabrics. However, this standard is now 14 years old and may not reflect current technology. It recommends thermal and chemical disinfection where heat cannot be confirmed or maintained.
The key to chemical disinfection is an effective sanitising agent that will not damage your cloths or affect their performance. This may be a manually added powdered productor a combination of liquid chemicals through chemical feed pumps.
One of the most effective ways to ensure disinfection is to install an Ozone diffusion system in conjunction with your laundry equipment. Ozone is a powerful oxidizer, reportedly up to 3500 times faster acting than chlorine and a highly effective biocide, killing both bacteria and spores in cold water. Ozone also offers environmental benefits as it enhances the wash process and reduces the number of rinses resulting in significant reductions in water, detergent, and waste water generation as well as virtually eliminating the need for hot water. 2
Hospitals under the UK Dept. of Health have been active in researching laundering and disinfection of Microfibre and have pinpointed Aqueous Ozone as a key part in both disinfection and in lowering costs. One study by the University Hospital of Southampton reported annual savings of 36.49 per cent in water, gas and electricity costs with Ozone compared to conventional thermal laundering and noted that ‘Additional savings include the reduced energy costs in drying the microfibre mops and cloths and the reduced use of detergent in the wash cycle.’3
“Hand hygiene must be observed when handling both soiled and clean cloths to prevent cross contamination and for worker health and safety.”
Drying at correct temperatures is critical to the life and performance of microfibre cloths and mops. The most frequent complaints from cleaning managers relate to loss of dimensional stability and melting and fibre damage from commercial laundries and gas dryers set at too high a temperature. Every brand of cloth is different and manufacturers recommended drying temperatures range from 60C to 95C depending on the nature of the cloth. Consult your manufacturer’s guidelines and launder and dry with care. Laundered cloths should be regularly audited for cleanliness and deterioration while cloths used in healthcare and food preparation may need to be regularly sampled and swabbed for bacterial growth as part of infection control procedures.
Hand hygiene must be observed when handling both soiled and clean cloths to prevent cross contamination and for worker health and safety. Gloves should be worn and needle stick protocols followed and hands should be washed before handling cloths.
Regardless of the nature of your facility your Microfibre maintenance program should be about minimising risk, protecting investment, improving safety and maintaining performance.
1. Rice R.r & DeBrum. Marc. The Ozone laundry Handbook LuLu Publishing 2011. pp;40-46
2. Cardis,D et Al. Ozone in the Laundry Industry – Practical Experiences in the United Kingdom, Ozone Science & Engineering 2001
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