How to Sanitize Laundry

How to sanitize laundry

How to Sanitize Laundry

Washing laundry with regular detergent keeps your clothes fresh and dirt-free. If you want an extra layer of protection against germs and bacteria that may be hiding on your fabrics, sanitizing your laundry can help you and your household stay well. 

While bleach and hot water are some of the most common ways to sanitize laundry, less-hazardous, color-safe options also exist. The sanitization method you choose ultimately depends on why you need to disinfect your laundry and what kinds of germs you’re trying to kill. 

Why Should You Sanitize Laundry?

If someone in your home is sick, your top priority is helping them get better. However, other people in your home are also at risk of catching contagious illnesses. Sick people can infect the objects they touch, including clothing, bed sheets, blankets, towels and other items. Sanitizing laundry from sick people and their caregivers protects other people from catching the sick person’s germs when touching those fabric items. 

Even if everyone in your house is healthy and germ-free, sanitizing your laundry is a good idea. In daily life, our clothing often comes into contact with trace amounts of dirt, bodily fluids, food debris and other germs. Though initially harmless, these can cause the growth of bacteria, fungi and viruses. Laundry from both sick and well people can harbor pathogens that regular detergents cannot eliminate. 

Germs can live on laundry well after the infected person has recovered. Viruses can survive for a few hours up to a few days, while pathogenic bacteria and molds can survive for weeks and even grow under the right conditions. 

While regular wash cycles with deep-cleaning detergent greatly reduce common germs found on everyday laundry, cleaning up after certain household illnesses requires more care and precaution. 

If someone has a more serious illness such as the stomach flu, which presents a higher opportunity for contamination through the spread of bodily fluids, wash their clothes and linens separately using sanitizing methods. If anyone in your household has a weakened immune system, sanitizing laundry more often and after illnesses can help protect these more vulnerable people. 

If you work in a field where you have everyday contact with sick people or animals, sanitize your work clothes after each use to avoid spreading contamination to other parts of your household. 

Alternatives for Sanitizing Laundry Without Bleach

Always wash the contaminated fabrics with a deep-cleaning laundry detergent first when sanitizing laundry. Washing away any dirt and using detergent separately from the disinfectants will help the sanitizing agents perform most effectively. From there, you can choose your preferred sanitization method. 

For best results, begin by separating contaminated clothes, sheets and towels. These fabrics absorb water differently and washing similar fabrics together ensures even agitation and cleaning. 

If your washing machine has sanitizing, steaming or extra rinse cycles, use these for additional cleaning. Use the warmest water setting the fabrics will allow, and after the initial cleaning cycle and sanitizing cycle, dry the fabrics at the warmest possible dryer setting. 

Bleach is a common method for sanitizing laundry because it kills or reduces most viruses, bacteria and molds. However, bleach has several downsides that may make it less appealing for use with your laundry, including: 

  • Fabric limitations: While bleach is safe to use with certain fabrics, such as cotton, it can ruin clothes or other textiles made from fabrics like wool, spandex and silk. Many colored fabrics are also not bleach-safe and could become discolored after you wash them with bleach.
  • Hazards: Bleach ingestion is a leading cause of child household injury from a cleaning product. Bleach can cause severe damage to areas of the body such as the eyes and respiratory system and is toxic when mixed with ammonia. 

For these reasons, you may opt to stay away from bleach as a laundry sanitizer. Several methods for sanitizing laundry without bleach include: 

Hydrogen Peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide at 3% concentration is effective at killing viruses, bacteria and fungi by breaking down their essential cell components. Hydrogen peroxide is also eco-friendly and safe for human exposure, making it a good disinfectant choice for your green household. 

To sanitize laundry with hydrogen peroxide, first wash with detergent, then run another cycle with the peroxide for 30 minutes to an hour and a half. Longer wash cycles kill more germs than shorter ones. Hydrogen peroxide effectively kills many human pathogens, including E. coli, which causes food poisoning, and streptococcus, the bacteria that cause strep throat. 

Keep in mind that hydrogen peroxide has bleaching properties, so, like bleach, only use it with color-safe fabrics. 

White Vinegar

Vinegar has some antimicrobial properties, meaning its acetic acid concentration can break down certain bacteria levels. Since vinegar won’t bleach your clothes, it’s a safe method for sanitizing colored laundry. Vinegar is also an environmentally friendly alternative to commercial disinfectants. 

As a household cleaner, white vinegar is the most effective form. To sanitize laundry with vinegar, first wash with detergent, then run another short rinse cycle with concentrated vinegar. 

If you choose to use vinegar in your laundry, it’s best as a mild sanitizing agent for minor bacterial illnesses. However, the concentrations of acetic acid are relatively weak compared with the sanitizing properties of bleach and other chemicals. Vinegar can kill bacteria, but it won’t inhibit further bacterial growth, nor will it kill viruses. 

When cleaning up after a viral infection or other human pathogens, using a stronger disinfectant than vinegar can more effectively prevent the spread of diseases in your household.

Pine Oil

Another natural disinfectant, pine oil is made from distilled pine tree resin. Concentrated pine oil has some disinfectant properties to fight against bacteria and viruses. To sanitize with pine oil, run a load of laundry with detergent, then add 1 cup of pine oil to the load and run another cycle. 

Although pine oil can sanitize fabrics with low germ levels, it does not effectively kill human pathogens. Similar to vinegar, you can use pine oil to disinfect laundry after minor illnesses, but you should rely on stronger sanitizers when dealing with more serious infections. 

commerical laundry equipment experts

Contact H-M Company, the Commercial Laundry Equipment Experts in Cincinnati

Knowing how to sanitize your laundry helps your entire household keep infections at bay during cold and flu season or whenever contagious illnesses crop up. From reliable bleach to more natural alternatives like hydrogen peroxide, vinegar and pine oil, you have a variety of options for keeping your laundry as clean as possible. 

Commercial washing machines that sanitize fabrics work even better with drain troughs and lint interceptors that prevent machine leaks and remove excess lint. H-M Company has been in the washing machine business for decades, and we’re dedicated to helping you find solutions that last. If you’re interested in custom drain trough technology, contact us today!

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