How to Clean and Care for Medical Scrubs

medical scrubs in the laundry basket

The Spruce / Jessica Lombardi

Overview
  • Working Time: 15 mins - 1 hr
  • Total Time: 1 - 2 hrs
  • Skill Level: Beginner

The days of scrubs available in only green are gone. Today's professional medical wear fabrics come in varied hues and patterns. But no matter the color or design, medical scrubs get exposed to lots of stains and bacteria, just like most medical uniforms. Learn how to wash and disinfect medical scrubs safely at home to help them look better and last longer.

What You'll Need

Equipment / Tools

  • Washer
  • Dryer

Materials

  • Heavy-duty detergent
  • White vinegar
  • Chlorine bleach, pine oil disinfectant, or phenolic disinfectant
  • Disposable gloves (optional)
  • Oxygen-based bleach for brightening (optional)

Instructions

How to Wash Medical Scrubs
 Detergent Heavy-duty detergent
 Water Temperature Cold for cotton, warm for blends
 Cycle Type Regular
 Drying Cycle Type Low (or air-dry) for cotton, medium for blends  
 Special Treatments Avoid hot water, turn garments inside out
 Iron Settings Hot

How to Wash Cotton Medical Scrubs

  1. Wash in Cold Water

    Wash 100 percent cotton scrubs in cold water and heavy-duty detergent (Persil and Tide are brand names). Turn them inside out to protect the finish and lessen fading due to abrasion with other fabrics.

  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
  3. Dry the Scrubs

    The cotton pieces should be dried on the lowest tumble dry setting of your dryer or line dried. This will prevent excessive shrinking and fading.

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 with a heavy-duty detergent. Turn them inside out before washing.

  2. Avoid Hot Water

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

  3. Dry the Scrubs

    Cotton/polyester blend scrubs can be dried on the regular heat dryer cycle or line dried.

How to Disinfect Medical 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. By following regular laundry steps, adding a disinfectant, and machine drying, any virus in question (even the AIDS virus) will be killed.

  1. Wear Disposable Gloves

    Wear disposable gloves while handling medical scrubs and always carry laundry away from your face. If someone else in your home has a compromised immune system and they take care of the laundry, encourage them to do the same.

    wearing plastic gloves to wash medical scrubs

    The Spruce / Almar Creative

  2. Use Chlorine Bleach for White Cotton Scrubs

    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.

    chlorine bleach near a washer's drum

    The Spruce / Almar Creative

  3. Use Pine Oil for Non-Cotton Colored Scrubs

    For other types of fabrics and colored scrubs, use a pine oil disinfectant, which is effective in hot and warm water. Brand names include Pine-Sol, Spic and 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.

    pouring chlorine bleach into the washer drum

    The Spruce / Almar Creative

    Ironing

    Cotton scrubs are soft and breathable, but wrinkle the in the wash so you'll want to use an iron on a hot or cotton setting after they're washed. Though you typically don't need to iron medical scrubs made of cotton/polyester blends, you can iron your scrubs if you'd prefer. Use a warm to hot setting.

    Storing Medical Scrubs

    After washing and disinfecting your medical scrubs, keep them sterile by hanging them up in a plastic garment bag or folding them and putting them in a devoted drawer. Try your best to change in and out of scrubs at work. Put dirty scrubs in a sealable plastic bag until they can be washed.

    Repairs

    Mending small holes and rips in medical scrubs requires a simple needle and thread. Much of the time the amount of movement you make will loosen the hems of your pants or top, which can also be mended with a needle and thread.

    Treating Stains on Medical Scrubs

    Stains on scrubs are inevitable. The key is knowing 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, refer to tips for removing specific stains.

    • Blood: 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 degrees Fahrenheit) 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.
    submerging scrubs in a soak

    The Spruce / Almar Creative

    Tips for Washing Medical Scrubs

    • Oxygen-based bleaches (such as OxiClean, Clorox 2, or OXO Brite) do not provide disinfectant qualities when used in the home laundry process.
    • Turning scrubs inside out before washing also reduces pilling.
    • Avoid getting any lotion or perfume on your medical scrubs because they may cause fabric discoloration.
    • Wash a brand new set of colored scrubs in cold water with a 1/2 cup of white vinegar added to the detergent. This will set the colored dye of your scrubs.
    • Look for scrubs with a soil release finish, which is commonly found on professional service and medical garments that need easy care.
Article Sources
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  1. Housekeeping and AIDS. National Caregivers Library