Antisepsis, Disinfection and Sterilization
Background : Most Environmental Services departments have switched from cotton-based mops and towels to microfiber products to clean floors and high-touch surfaces. The debate has now shifted as to whether the laundering processes can effectively and consistently remove bioburden and return the textiles to a state of "hygienically clean", or if disposable, single-use products are necessary to reduce the risk of cross-contamination. To better understand the risks, mops and towels returned from institutional laundry facilities were assessed for total bioburden, genetic diversity of contamination, and the presence of biofilm.
Methods: Samples of mops and towels were retrieved from several different healthcare facilities. Portions of each sample were assessed using standard methods to determine the total aerobic microorganisms and fungi and the bacterial microbiome. Select samples with confirmed contamination were examined for biofilm structures using confocal microscopy before and after hydration. Unused non-relaunderable mops served as negative controls.
Results : Several samples of relaundered mop pads and towels contained diverse populations of bacteria with levels in some samples exceeding 10,000 total microorganisms. Analysis of the microbiome revealed over a dozen genera or families of bacteria, including species known to cause healthcare-acquired infections. Although typical biofilm structures were difficult to differentiate from debris entrapped in dry samples, examination after rehydration revealed clear evidence of biofilms. Little-no viable microbes were recovered from unused, non-relaunderable mops.
Conclusions : Results indicate that mops and towels can be contaminated with a diverse community of microbes, especially bacteria. The microbial populations included bacteria that can cause infections. At least some of the microbes survive the laundering process by forming biofilms on debris entrapped in the textiles. It is recommended to consider alternatives such as disposable, single-use mops and towels rather than rely on the laundry process to effectively clean and disinfect textiles after use.