The COVID-19 pandemic is overwhelming hospitals and overworked medical staff, leading the CDC to recommend home care for mild-moderate cases of the disease. This makes someone in the family a caregiver who must apply safe practices when dealing with a sick loved one. The epidemic sick room is one of the topics I discuss in our latest book “Alton’s Pandemic Preparedness Guide: Dealing with Emerging and Current Viral Threats”(You can also find articles on the subject on this website).
One aspect of preventing spread of the virus in home care settings is the proper practice of washing clothes used by the patient. The CDC has guidelines as to how best to deal with this issue, but I rarely see them discuss this topic in the media.
Washing clothes may seem boring and mundane to you. Well, let’s keep it that way by following some simple rules when it comes to washing items contaminated with COVID-19. The CDC suggests these strategies when cleaning, not only clothes, but linens, towels, and anything else you would launder.
- Wear gloves. Droplets from virus-laden coughs can contain viable germs that survive for a period of time on cloth. Disposable gloves should be discarded after each use, while reusable gloves are best used for disinfecting and cleaning surfaces.
- Don’t shake out dirty laundry. This reduces the possibility of the virus dispersing through the air.
- You can wash a sick person’s laundry with other items. This is the official CDC recommendation, but I would think it prudent to wash these items separately if it’s not an excessive burden. Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and use “the warmest appropriate water setting” Then, dry items completely.
- Keep hands clean. Wash hands immediately after taking off gloves. If you’re not using gloves when handling the dirty laundry, properly wash hands afterwards.
- Keep hampers clean. After putting laundry away, clean and disinfect hampers following standard CDC guidance for cleaning surfaces. Consider using a disposable bag liner or a reusable bag liner that can be washed.
Caregivers have to give care, but they also have to wash clothes, prepare food, and disinfect surfaces. We’ll continue giving tips we hope you’ll find useful as long as needed during the pandemic.
Joe Alton MD
Want to find out more about viral infectious diseases? Check out a copy of our new book “Alton’s Pandemic Preparedness Guide: Dealing with Emerging and Current Viral Threats”, based on a decade of writing about medical preparedness.