Eliminating Odd Soils From Linens

download (16)Professionals in the medical laundry services business are constantly faced with challenging stains. By recognizing them, separating the items out, and treating them quickly so that they do not become permanently set in, laundry companies can help protect their valuable inventory of medical linens. We will look at a few stain-causing soils that anyone dealing with healthcare linens has probably faced, or will at some point.

Chlorhexidine Gluconate

This is an antiseptic found in many hand sanitizers used for surgical scrub, preoperative skin preparation, and cleansing wounds. It is also sometimes included in bed-bath kits for bedridden patients. A common brand name is Hibiclens®, but there are others. It is a challenging stain to get out of hospital linens because it has adhesive qualities that make it nearly impossible to remove during an initial flush. Then, when it comes into contact with chlorine while being laundered, it turns brown and becomes permanent.

If any of your clients use a product with this antiseptic, ask your chemical supplier for a peracetic acid/peroxide bleaching system. Hibiclens also has washing instructions on its website. Since this antiseptic is used in so many surgical procedures, it is a good idea to wash all surgical linens with a high-temperature hydrogen peroxide formula or switch to an oxygen-based bleach.

If chlorhexidine gluconate stains are still a problem on your hospital linens, it could be because the chlorine level in your area’s water supply is high enough to react with the chemical and set it into a yellow stain. If this is the case, there are chemicals you can add to neutralize the chlorine and prevent most discoloration caused by this pesky stain-maker.


Activated charcoal is used in emergency rooms because of its absorption qualities to treat patients who have suffered a drug overdose or ingested a poison. If it is spotted in the sorting, it can be treated with a metasilicate blend for the alkali to 1,500-2,000 parts per million (PPM) and then washed in an emulsifier detergent before going through with the regular wash. Ask your chemical company for detailed directions if you find you are getting enough of these stains that it is worth going through these extra steps.

Therapeutic Massage Oils

Massage oils and lotions used by physical therapists in hospitals and other medical facilities are especially difficult to wash out of towels, sheets, and hospital garments. Because therapeutic massage often involves pressing the patient’s body into the massage table, the stains can be partially set in before you ever get the linens. Medical laundry services with physical therapy clients are all too familiar with these oil-based stains.

As with chlorhexidine gluconate stains, it is important to recognize these oil and lotion stains before putting the linens in with regular wash. You need to do an initial washing with a degreaser before the main wash. Some experts recommend citrus-based products for removing oil-based products. Generally a silicate alkali works best as an emulsifier on oils.

Setting Reasonable Goals for Stain Removal

The secret to a highly efficient laundry operation is not to have zero stains, according to American Laundry News. The generally accepted percentage of rejects in the healthcare linens laundry industry is 3.5 to 5.5%. The only way to get it below that is to subject lightly-soiled items to extra mechanical, chemical and processing treatments that could damage them. However, the more you know about the soils you can expect to encounter in your operation, the better you can be prepared to remove them. Work with your chemical supplier to design the best combination of sorting classifications and wash processes.