How to Wash and Disinfect Medical Scrubs

medical scrubs in the laundry basket

The Spruce / Jessica Lombardi

The days of scrubs being available in only that odd shade of green are gone. Today's professional medical wear is as varied as high fashion. But no matter the color or design, medical scrubs get exposed to lots of stains and bacteria. Learn how to wash and disinfect medical scrubs safely at home to help them look better and last longer.

How to Wash Cotton Medical Scrubs

  1. Wash in Cold Water

    Wash 100 percent cotton scrubs in cold water. Turn them inside out to protect the finish and lessen fading due to abrasion with other fabrics. The pieces should be dried on the lowest tumble dry setting of your dryer or line dried. This will prevent excessive shrinking and fading.

  2. Add White Vinegar

    Add 1/2 cup distilled white vinegar to the rinse water to soften the fabrics without the addition of commercial scented softeners.

    adding vinegar to the washer
    ​The Spruce / Jessica Lombardi

How to Wash Cotton-Polyester Blend Scrubs

  1. Wash in Warm Water

    Scrubs that are 65 percent cotton and 35 percent polyester should be washed in warm water and can be dried on the regular heat dryer cycle or line dried.

  2. Avoid Hot Water

    Avoid hot water washes that can set many stains and decrease the life of your scrubs.

How to Disinfect Scrubs

Due to the nature of medical care, it is almost inevitable that your medical scrubs will be exposed to bacterial and viral infections and may need to be disinfected. While it is rare that you or others in your home can become infected from handling these clothes, it is a good idea to keep soiled scrubs separate from other clothes until they are washed. The scrubs are perfectly safe after washing due to the cleaning process.

If someone in your home has a compromised immune system and he or she takes care of the laundry chores, encourage them to wear disposable gloves while handling medical scrubs and to always carry laundry away from his or her face.

White cotton scrubs can be disinfected by adding chlorine bleach (sodium hypochlorite) to the wash cycle. Chlorine bleach should be poured into a washer's bleach dispenser or diluted with water before adding it to the washer drum. Never pour bleach directly on clothing.

Note: Oxygen-based bleaches (such as Oxi Clean, Clorox 2, or OXO Brite) do not provide disinfectant qualities when used in the home laundry process.

For other types of fabrics and colored scrubs, you should use a pine oil disinfectant, which is effective in hot and warm water. Brand names include Pine-Sol, Spic-n-Span Pine, and Lysol Pine Action. They should be added at the beginning of the wash cycle. To be effective, the product must contain 80 percent pine oil.

Another alternative for disinfecting colored scrubs is a phenolic disinfectant. Lysol brand disinfectant is available in most areas. Phenolic disinfectants may be added to the wash or rinse water if the rinse water is warm.

By following regular laundry steps, adding a disinfectant, and machine drying, any virus in question, even the AIDS virus, will be killed.

bleach and borax for disinfecting medical scrubs
The Spruce / Jessica Lombardi

How to Remove Specific Stains on Scrubs

Stains on scrubs are inevitable. The key is to know how to pretreat different types of stains before you begin washing. Here are some of the most common medical stains and how to handle them. For other accidents, such as the mustard from your sandwich, follow the stain removal tips for specific stains.

  • Blood Stains: Always begin with a soak in cold water. Hot water will set the blood proteins deeper into the fabric and make them very hard to remove. Never use plain soap. Instead, after flushing as much of the blood as possible from the fabric fibers (use a steady stream of cold water through the fabric), rub in a bit of heavy-duty laundry detergent such as Tide or Persil that contains the necessary enzymes to break apart the stain. Let the detergent work for five or 10 minutes and then wash as usual.
  • Vomit, Urine, and Feces: These are also protein stains and should be treated first with cold water. Remove any solid matter with a tongue depressor or edge of a disposable spoon or knife. Never rub with a cloth because that pushes the stain deeper into the fabric. Again, flush with a steady stream of cold water and treat with the heavy-duty detergent before washing. Add 1/2 cup baking soda to the wash water to help reduce odor.
  • Ointments: These are oil-based stains that require warm or hot water to remove the stains. Remove any solids with a dull-edged tool, no rubbing. Apply a bit of heavy-duty detergent and let it work for five to 10 minutes. Flush with hot water and wash as usual.
  • Liquid Medications: It is the dye added to these meds that causes a problem. Mix a solution of oxygen-based bleach and cool water. Submerge the stained garment and allow it to soak at least one hour, longer is better, or up to eight hours. This will remove the dye and is safe for all colors and types of scrub fabrics. Wash as usual.
  • Iodine: Begin by soaking the stain in warm water (about 90 F) with an enzyme-based presoak product or heavy-duty detergent for about 20 minutes. Cold water is not effective for removing an iodine stain. Then wash as usual in warm water with detergent and oxygen-based bleach to remove the remaining discoloration. If a stain remains, mix a fresh solution of oxygen-based bleach and tepid water. Submerge the entire garment and allow it to soak for at least four hours or overnight and then launder as usual. Repeat as needed.
scrubs in a pre-soak
The Spruce / Jessica Lombardi