What Your Mother Never Told You – How to Clean Your Scrubs!

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. 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.

Unfortunately, washing medical scrubs like normal clothes won’t do the job properly, and could ultimately put your patients at risk or force you to purchase new scrubs more often than you’d like to. With this in mind, you should always wash your scrubs separately, not only for their care but also to ensure your normal laundry doesn’t get infected by accident. The process for cleaning your scrubs includes three stages—pre-treatment, washing (which should be done twice), and finally, drying.

How to Clean Your Scrubs – Step One

The first step in the washing process is to pre-treat your scrubs by soaking them in cold water containing half a cup of white vinegar. The scrubs should be turned inside out to protect the fabric, especially if they are 100% cotton, 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 instead of using traditional conditioners, it also acts as a mild disinfectant at this stage.

How to Clean Your Scrubs – Step Two

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. This first cycle should be done with cold water and regular old detergent.  

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. Other alternatives to regular bleach include pine oil disinfectants, although these are not as strong as normal bleach it is an effective natural product for those that are more environmentally conscious. At this stage the washing cycle should be done with warm water and include normal detergent again in addition to the bleach products and stain removers mentioned previously. 

How to Clean Your Scrubs – Step Three

After this final wash your scrubs should now be ready for drying. The first step is to put them in a tumble dryer on the highest heat possible for at least 30 minutes, this is to ensure any remaining bacteria or viruses that might have survived the two-stage washing process are killed. The final step is to take out your scrubs and iron them nicely—this is purely cosmetic and will ensure you keep up that all important professional appearance on the job. 

In case you were wondering how to tackle specific stains on your scrubs we’ve included some final, handy tips for removing the toughest of stains :

Blood - always soak blood stains in cold water, using hot water only makes it worse by setting the blood proteins deeper in the fabric. Once it’s had a good soak use some heavy-duty detergent on the stain and leave for 10 minutes before washing as normal.

Vomit, Urine or Faeces - we’re sorry that these disgusting stains are sadly all too common!  Fortunately, however, they can easily be removed. Much like blood stains they are protein based and should be soaked in cold water before washing. You can then use a heavy-duty detergent on a normal wash while chucking in half a cup of baking soda to take care of any smells.

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

Iodine - one 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! 

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