Cleaning and Maintaining Your Scrubs

Cleaning and Maintaining Your Scrubs

Carolyn Cumper

Carolyn Cumper

Published in MedShop Blog

0 min read

June 21, 2024

Easily the most recognisable item of clothing in the industry, the humble medical scrub is exposed to all sorts of fluids and discharges on a nurse’s routine shift—which as everyone knows could see them end up getting rather dirty. Your scrubs may well be the first thing a patient sees, and it’s always great to make a good first impression.

However, not only is it essential to keep your scrubs clean for a professional appearance, it is also vitally important that they are safe to use on your next shift. As many experienced nurses know, this means you will probably find yourself standing over the washing machine on a regular basis—and in case you were wondering how best to clean your scrubs, we’re here to help!  

As the healthcare industry has moved beyond standard green scrubs, nurses can now choose from a wide variety of colours when it comes to their most essential piece of workwear from black scrubs to blue or pink. Despite this leap forward in style, no one has yet created a set of scrubs that are totally safe from the traditional stains you will likely pick up on the job. That is why we wanted to share with you a few tips to keep your scrubs clean and safe.

Before Washing Your Scrubs

Scrubs are quite different to the rest of your laundry, so you’ll need to take special care in how you prepare them for cleaning. The most important information you need for scrub care is printed on the care label. Following the care instructions on this label is critical to maintaining your scrubs as well as possible for both functionality and longevity. When you wash medical uniforms, you have to sanitize them as well as clean them, so it’s not as simple as tossing everything into the wash and forgetting about it.

Don’t forget to separate your colors before washing to avoid any dye bleeding. Wash like colors together, and always separate white scrubs from all others. It’s also highly recommended to launder your scrubs separately from your regular clothes. This helps prevent pathogens (and bodily fluids) from spreading to other garments. It also keeps them separate from materials like denim or other rough fabric types that can cause damage to your scrubs.

Scrubs Wash Procedure

Now that you’re ready to wash your scrubs, there are a few steps to keep in mind. As always, refer to the directions on the care tag if you have questions about your specific pair of scrubs.

1. The Pre-Treatment Soak

The first step in the washing process is to pre-treat your scrubs by soaking them in a cold water solution containing half a cup of white vinegar. The scrubs should be turned inside out to protect the fabric, especially if they are cotton scrubs, as this will reduce the fading of their colour and increase the lifespan of your garments. Vinegar is a more eco-friendly way of treating the fabric compared to using traditional conditioners, and it also acts as a mild disinfectant at this stage that will help sanitize your scrubs.

2. The Washing Process

Once your scrubs have been soaked, they are ready for the first washing machine cycle. Depending on how soiled the items are, or if there are particularly stubborn stains on the scrubs, you can use a colour safe stain remover before washing your scrubs for the first time. This first cycle should be done with cold water and regular laundry detergent. You can use a regular wash setting on your washer.

Before the second washing cycle, check the scrubs for stains before adding a colour-safe bleach for a more thorough disinfecting action. Always add bleach separately to your washing machine’s dispenser, and never pour directly onto clothing. An alternative to regular bleach is pine oil disinfectant. Although these are not as strong as normal bleach, pine oil is an effective natural product for those who are more environmentally conscious.

At this stage, the washing cycle should be done with warm water and include regular detergent again in addition to the bleach products and stain removers mentioned previously. Fabric softeners are not recommended, as these liquids can coat the fibers in your scrubs and affect the integrity of the material.

3. Drying

After this final wash, your scrubs should now be ready for drying. In most cases, you can put them in a tumble dryer on the lowest heat setting for at least 30 minutes. High heat can cause shrinkage in some fabrics, so it’s important to use low heat to protect your items. Generally, the lowest setting on your dryer is safe.

You can also air dry your scrubs on a line or flat on a drying rack. After drying, you may wish to take out your scrubs and iron them. This is purely cosmetic and will ensure you keep up that all-important professional appearance on the job. Note that all scrubs do not require ironing — many modern options are made from high-quality wrinkle-resistant materials that can save you this tedious step.

Treating Stains on Medical Scrubs

Due to the nature of your job, you’re likely to run into stains on your scrubs from various contaminants. These tips can help you remove stubborn stains from your dirty scrubs so that you don’t have to replace them as often.


Always soak blood stains in cold water. The water temperature is very important, as hot water can cause the proteins in the blood to set deeper into the fabric. Depending on the colour of your scrubs, you can dab hydrogen peroxide on the stain to break it up. This is only recommended on white or very light colors since peroxide can have a bleaching effect.

Vomit, Urine or Faeces

Unfortunately, vomit, urine, and faeces stains on your nursing scrubs are a regular hazard of the profession. Much like blood stains, these bodily fluids are protein-based, and should be soaked in cold water before washing. You can then use a heavy-duty detergent on a normal wash cycle while adding in half a cup of baking soda to take care of any odors.


These oil-based stains require hot water to remove. Never rub the stain directly as this will only make it worse. Apply a bit of strong detergent, leave for 10 minutes, and then wash as normal.


Medical professionals know that iodine creates some of the toughest stains in the business. Start by soaking the affected area in warm water with an enzyme-based pre-soak product or heavy-duty detergent. After 20 minutes, you can wash in the machine with an oxygen-based bleach to remove the last decolourisation. But please take care with the colour of your garment—get it wrong and you’ll be buying new scrubs!

Why Scrub Care Is Important

Your medical uniforms are critical to your job, so taking care of them properly isn’t optional. While there are excellent affordable options on the market, no one wants to have to unnecessarily replace scrubs as a result of poor care and maintenance. Healthcare workers have enough on their plates without worrying about constantly purchasing new workwear.

How to Wash Scrubs: FAQ

Let’s take a look at a few common questions we see from professionals who want to make sure they’re giving their scrubs the best possible care. 

How Often Should You Wash Your Scrubs?

You may have some clothing items that you can rewear a few times between washes, but scrubs are not in that category. In fact, you should wash your scrubs after every single wear to remove contaminants, reduce the risk of spreading pathogens, and keep your scrubs in tip-top shape.

Do Scrubs Shrink After Wash?

Shrinkage is certainly possible any time you do laundry, especially when you wash scrubs made from cotton. But you can prevent this issue by using the lowest possible heat setting for your washer and dryer. Air drying scrubs is also a great way to avoid shrinkage.

Why Do My Scrubs Smell After Washing?

Sometimes, you may notice a sour or mildew-like smell from your scrubs even after they’ve been properly washed. When that happens, it’s usually an easy fix. First, make sure you’ve followed all the washing directions correctly. Second, never leave your scrubs in the washing machine for long periods after they’re done washing. You should always transfer them to the dryer or a drying rack or line right away to prevent mildew. Lastly, double check that you’re using the right amount of detergent for the size of the load you are washing. White vinegar can be used to neutralize odors, so if you run into this problem, you may need to wash your scrubs again, starting with the pre-soak step.

Author: Carolyn Cumper's career spans from being a Patrol Officer in Rhodesia to a Paediatric Nurse in the UK, and later a Deputy Hospice Manager in Australia. Her diverse journey includes roles in law enforcement, healthcare, and business, culminating in her significant contributions to Medshop.

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