Skin Infections - How to Stop the Cycle of Re-Infection at Low Temperature Machine Washing

By Suzy Turnbull

Today's eco-smart domestic washing machines are stacked-out with energy efficiency features, water saving options and low temperature washing programs that minimise damage to clothes and keep the carbon footprint as small as possible. But most of the domestic washing machine brands on the market are not able to 'thermally disinfect' clothes (or indeed themselves!) since many are not capable of reaching the high wash temperatures for a sustainable period of time necessary to kill harmful organisms living in the laundry.

Consider that for the washing of human soiled linen in industrial washing machines, the National Health Service (NHS) recommended temperatures are 65 degrees centigrade (150 degrees Fahrenheit) for not less than 10 minutes or 71 degrees centigrade (160 degrees Fahrenheit) for not less than 3 minutes. It is also preferable that the machines have a pre-wash cycle.

However, almost all domestic washing machines are cold fill, use minimal energy to heat the water and then, even if the required disinfection temperature is achieved, do not wash at this high temperature for a sustained period (i.e. the water temperature falls away quickly, in the interests of economy rather than disinfection).

What does this mean for people who suffer from fungal and bacterial infections such as athlete's foot, jock-itch, thrush, impetigo, fungal nail or ringworm? Or for vulnerable people: pregnant women, women with new born babies, the elderly, diabetics, cancer patients, people taking immunosuppressive therapies and people for whom minor fungal skin infections can become serious?

So in a low-temperature program, tiny micro-organisms such as bacteria and fungi live on in underwear, socks, sheets, towels and bath mats re-infecting and potentially spreading infection to other members of the household.

There is a way to keep the energy bills down with a cool wash but still disinfect your laundry by using a laundry sanitiser in the pre-wash that can kill the micro-organisms at temperatures as low as 15 degrees centigrade.

In a domestic washing machine that is always used for low-temperature washes without a laundry sanitiser, the micro-organisms can build up over time and create something called biofilm, which is an aggregate of micro-organisms in a slimy substrate. Since the washing machine provides an ideal warm and damp climate for micro-organisms to breed, the machine becomes contaminated with infectious material, giving off a mouldy smell and so the cycle of re-infection goes on.

Being confident that you have eradicated germs from your laundry and your washing machine should form part of an overall health programme for anyone with a recurrent skin infection or who looks after vulnerable people.

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