Laundered Reusable Cleaning Towels Pose No Health Risk

Posted May 31, 2013 at 5:37 pm

Scientific Evidence Refutes Claims of Healthcare Associated Infections (HAI) by Disposables Industry
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Contact: Ken Koepper, 703.519.0029, ext. 109;
Laundered Reusable Shop Towels Pose No Health Risk to Workers -3/5/13

ALEXANDRIA, Va., May 31, 2013 — Scientific evidence, experience and expert opinions from leading internationally recognized health-related agencies and associations dispel claims that laundered reusable cleaning towels pose any health risk to patients. These facts refute the disposables industry’s continuing fear tactics to build market-share highlighted by skewed self-funded research to generate fear amongst towel users, similar to attacks on reusable laundered shop towels despite decades of use without any reported issues. These claims were ultimately refuted by thorough, comprehensive research and independent analysis.

“As the trade association representing facilities that process laundered reusable cleaning towels and other reusable healthcare linens critical to the healthcare community we have a responsibility to immediately refute any disingenuous claims regarding the risks of laundered reusable textiles,” said TRSA President & CEO Joseph Ricci, CAE, “especially when scientific research and decades of experience not only indicate that laundered reusable cleaning towels are safe but that they are also the most efficient, cost-effective and sustainable option.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and materials distributed by leading healthcare-related associations including the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) and the Association for the Healthcare Environment (AHE), hygienically clean laundry poses a negligible risk to patients especially when considering the volume of reusable textiles laundered in healthcare settings (an estimated 5 billion pounds annually in the United States). The CDC further adds that existing control measures are effective in reducing any risk of healthcare-associated infections (HAI) and that “although contaminated textiles and fabrics in healthcare facilities can be a source of pathogenic microorganisms, reports of HAI to contaminated fabrics are so few that the overall risk of disease transmission is negligible. Standards include CDC and industry-wide “Guidelines for Environmental Infection Control in Healthcare Facilities,” which covers the processing of reusable textiles and proper cleaning of healthcare facilities.

Lynne M. Sehulster, Ph.D., infectious diseases health scientist in the CDC health care quality promotion, indicates her agency sees no benefit to disposables in reducing HAIs. Product effectiveness is rarely subjected to independent or third-party review, she observes, advising hospital ES teams to address this matter by simply following CDC recommendations for cleaning and disinfecting strategies. The CDC may compare products but is currently most concerned about ensuring that healthcare facilities follow these protocols.

Nearly 200 commercial laundries have earned certifications and accreditations based on best practices, inspections, testing and practices grounded in OSHA regulations and standards set by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI); Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI) and The Joint Commission (TJC), formerly the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO). The TRSA Hygienically Clean certification is the only designation that quantifies cleanlinessthrough third-party biological testing to levels verified by the HohensteinInstitute, among the most important independent research and testing institutions in the textile sector.Certification and monitoring reduces subjectivity by focusingon proven outcomes, international standards and best management practices.Hygienically Clean has become the fastest growing textile services certification by testing products and allowing laundries in compliance withfederal, state and professional standards and guidelines to use documented standard operatingprocedures (SOPs) for sorting, handling, processing and finishing reusable linensand garments:

•        Quality control manuals and other best business management practices

•        Functional separation of cleaned items from those that need to be washed

•        Washing procedures, formulas and temperatures for chemical use, rinsing, extracting and finishing

•        Equipment maintenance, cleaning and housekeeping

“Reusable cleaning towels have been used by millions of workers at healthcare facilities for more than 100 years with no indications that laundered reusable towels have any impact on patient health,” stated Ricci. “Any research indicating HAI risks associated with reusable products ignores the practical facts. All evidence reaffirms our confidence that negligible risks exist when reusable towels are properly laundered and used according to industry identified best practices.”

While there are applications for both disposable and reusable cleaning towels, reusable towels remain the wiper of choice for environmental healthcare professionals for absorbency and cost benefits. In addition, reusable towels also satisfy EPA’s “reduce, reuse, recycle” hierarchy for effectively managing materials and waste.  Compared with disposables, reusable shop towels are recognized as the cleaner, greener alternative by users and regulators. According to EPA lifecycle research, disposable wipers consume 13 times more energy and generate four times more solid waste.

About TRSA

TRSA represents the $16 billion textiles services industry which employs 200,000+ people at 1,500+ facilities nationwide by advocating for fair regulatory and legislative policy affecting the textile services industry and promoting the environmental benefits of reusable textiles; and increases productivity, sustainability, safety and professionalism through education, certification, research, benchmarking and information-sharing. Most Americans benefit at least once a week from the cleanliness and safety of laundered, reusable linens, uniforms, towels, mats and other products provided to the service, industrial/manufacturing, hospitality, restaurant and healthcare sectors. TRSA quantifies our industry’s commitment to cleanliness and sustainability through its Clean Green and Hygienically Clean Certification programs.