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The continual presence of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the dominating headline and policy dilemma for the entire world since 2020 and still through early 2021. Containing its spread (as well as the spread of other viruses) has been a priority for the textile services industry. Of particular interest, especially to the hospitality and healthcare sectors is information in relation to SARS COV-2's ability to survive on various surfaces (including linens) and its potential ability to survive the washing process.

ETSA, along with The Textile Services Association (UK) and TRSA (USA) as well as ETSA's German, Belgian, Swiss, Finnish and Norwegian partners  worked together on a research project to test COVID's survivability in the washing process. The research was conducted at De Montfort University (DMU) in Leicester in the United Kingdom.

While textiles were never seen as a major catalyst for transition of pandemic, it nevertheless behoves us to examine if spreading of the pandemic via textiles is as viable as compared with other more known means of transmission. Since textiles are major reusable products in healthcare, hospitality, fashion, etc understanding their role in the pandemic is vital to not only the industry, but society moreover.

In sum, the research found that: "The conclusion is that it is generally good news for those who are involved with hygiene and cleanliness in textiles. Virtually all wash processes, with potentially the exception of low-temperature domestic washing, will effectively eliminate any infection risk caused by coronavirus. However, other pathogens such as C. difficile, B. cereus, E. faecium, etc. will still require thermal disinfection. The outcome of the research points out that coronavirus does not pose an additional risk that would have required higher temperature wash processes." 

 

While the report acknowledges the risk in spreading COVID-19 is minimal, contamination control and soiled linen process management are still crucial dimensions in ensuring the hygienic distribution of textiles from textile service organizations. The report says "It is essential that the processing sites are well equipped to manage the risks of cross contamination and have adequate procedures and practices in place. The fabrics potentially contaminated with the virus should be managed within a controlled environment where the segregation of soiled linen is well managed. This should eliminate the potential for recontamination of clean linen, surfaces and equipment. The risk is highest with 100% polyester fabric which is likely to include some nurses' uniforms, gowns, drapes, furnishings, curtains, etc."

A more detailed examination conducted within the paradigm of the study illustrated the survivability of SARS-CoV-2 on various fabric types and types of washing parameters, see below.

Survivability of virus on common fabric types.

  1. The tested strain of coronavirus (HCoV-OC43) remained infectious on polyester fabric for at least 72 hours, 100% cotton for 24 hours and a blended polycotton (50/50) for 6 hours.
  2. The virus was demonstrated to transfer to other surfaces from polyester fabric for up to 72 hours, suggesting that textiles may be a fomite transmission risk within the healthcare and domestic environments.

Survivability of virus in various wash parameters:

  1. Model coronaviruses can remain infectious in water alone at temperatures up to 60°C for 10 minutes
  2. Traces of the viruses were found after laundering in a washing machine at ambient temperature in the presence of interfering substances (artificial saliva).
  3. When agitation, temperature and detergent are combined, no trace was found at 40°C and above

Conclusions:

The results obtained from this research has shown that fabrics potentially contaminated with the virus should be managed within the controlled environment where soiled linens are properly segregated. This would effectively eliminate the risk of recontamination of clean linen as well as that for surfaces and equipment. While the research shows that the risk for recontamination is highest with 100% polyester fabrics, this risk can be mitigated when processing sites are well-equipped to manage the risks of cross-contamination with adequate procedures in place, including bagging, the aforementioned segregation, regular disinfection of surfaces and washing (especially healthcare uniforms) at higher temperatures.

The conclusions of this research are generally very good news for the textile care industry, as virtually all wash process with the exception of low temperature can effectively eliminate any infection risk caused by COVID-19, however, as previously mentioned other pathogens will require further thermal disinfection. The research is currently undergoing a peer review and is expected to be published in the next few months in an open access journal. ETSA will be sure to communicate the final results of the study to its partners, members, and relevant policy makers once they are made available.

 

ETSA: Representing textile rental companies

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ETSA: In partnership with suppliers of detergents, fabrics and machinery

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ETSA: Coordinating national textile service associations and working with research institutes

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