How to navigate the complex universe of Medical Fabric Care
Medical Fabrics are Unique
Medical fabrics are often confused with fabrics used for standard upholstery. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Today’s medical fabrics are extremely sophisticated. In many cases, a single medical fabric is engineered to meet as many as 15 performance standards. Almost all medical fabrics are designed to constantly release antimicrobial agents on their surface that help reduce the presence of pathogens. These antimicrobial agents work hard to prevent the spread of common micro-organisms like aspergillus niger and staphylococcus aureus. The proprietary antimicrobial agents found in FR Systems’ Elastatex Platinum fabric work especially hard to stop the growth of super-bugs like MRSA.
Medical Fabric Types and Care
No two medical fabrics are the same. Please consider the following:
- Construction of the medical fabric could be woven, non-woven or knitted.
- Content of the fabric could be nylon, polyester Kevlar or a blend.
- Fabric backings, the coating that makes the fabric fluid proof, could be urethane, vinyl, neoprene, or polyethylene.
- In many instances, there can be multiple fabric types in a single medical mattress cover. Take for example a medical mattress cover that utilizes a cast coated urethane top and a woven PVC anti-slip bottom fabric.
- The medical fabric’s cover could be reversible – it can be used with the coating side up, or down.
When it comes to caring for these fabrics, each of these factors needs to be considered to ensure the best performance, especially when it comes to the cleaning process. Not only does proper care preserve the medical cover’s warranty, but it also mitigates the cross-contamination of harmful pathogens.
“An estimated 75,000 people in the United States die each year from a healthcare-associated infection (HAI).“
Cleaning ≠ Laundering ≠ Disinfecting
Cleaning medical fabrics can be a complex procedure. From the cleaning of basic stains like dirt or food debris to more complex contaminants like bodily fluid or disease, there are many contaminants that can affect these fabrics.
Cleaning – Soils, Stains, Spotting
To remove soils or stains from medical fabrics, whether mattress fabrics, pillow fabrics, or shower curtain fabrics, apply neutral soap diluted in lukewarm water with a sponge. Neutral soaps don’t contain lye (NaOH) or potash (KOH) and are therefore gentler on the skin and medical fabrics. For stubborn stains or spots, use the same neutral soap solution, pre-soak the fabric in the solution for a minute or two, then brush it clean with a soft-bristle brush.
Most medical fabrics are not launderable. It is critical that you contact the manufacturer to determine if this is a good method for cleaning a cover. FR Systems Elastatex VXC is a unique medical fabric that utilizes a proprietary carbon urethane, which allows for cleaning up to 90° Celsius. This is a particularly important feature for medical fabrics that are used for “fabric face out” applications, as all disinfectants are made for non-porous hard surfaces.
By far the most complicated aspect of medical fabric care concerns disinfecting. There are hundreds of different disinfectants and countless brands. Beyond that, many of these products need to be diluted, which can introduce other risks. A disinfectant that is too weak will not do the job properly and a disinfectant that is too concentrated will compromise the fabric. For this reason, many institutions embrace the “Ready to Use” wipe approach (RTU Wipes).
Unfortunately, just using RTU Wipes doesn’t eliminate the need for sound risk management practices. Use the proper disinfectants for each material as directed by the manufacturer. If anything is unclear, contact the manufacturer or distributor to get their expert advice.
Keeping all this in mind, here are some general guidelines for caring for your medical fabric.
Basic Guidelines – Medical Fabric Care and Cleaning
Fabric Side-Out Guidelines
- Remove all gross contamination from the surface (i.e. urine, feces, blood) with absorbent material (i.e. cloth, paper towels, etc.) Spot clean with mild soap and water.
- Spot clean harder stains or spots if necessary. (see Cleaning – Soils, Stains, Spotting above)
- Manual wash in lukewarm water with Tide, or Persil, or Go to 4/ below.
- Machine launder (if recommended by the manufacturer) according to the following protocol:
- Wash at temperature recommended by manufacturer with neutral detergents such as Tide or Persil (consult the manufacturer for a recommendation).
- Air-drying is best after the laundry cycle.
- Ironing and pressing the fabric is discouraged.
Coated Side Out Guidelines: 5 Steps to Cleaning / Disinfecting
Contact the manufacturer to determine the recommended RTU Disinfectant Wipe.
- Remove all gross contamination from the surface (i.e. urine, feces, blood) with absorbent material (i.e. cloth, paper towels, etc.).
- Ensure the area is clean by wiping the surface with one of the RTU cleaning agents mentioned above.
- Disinfect: liberally wipe the surface again with RTU wipes (avoid pooling of the disinfectant)
- Wipe dry after recommended dwell time (1-3 minutes – refer to the mfg. instructions)
- It is a best practice, no matter what disinfectant chemistry is used, to wipe the surface with a damp cloth and mild soap, followed finally by a damp cloth (with liberal amounts of water).
ODOR CONTROL: If you do not use products that are odor-counteractants or scented, you may have to prevent odors on long-term incontinence fabrics by spot cleaning daily with neutral soap mixed in lukewarm water. The use of a scented cleaner/disinfectant might be an option too.
FR Systems International is your place for professional fabric that can serve your every need. With over 30 years of experience in providing fire retardant, technical and industrial textiles to several fields (including medical textiles, school housing, and furniture), FR Systems will provide durable, reliable textiles for your needs. Please visit frsystems.ca for further inquiries.