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Laundering of Clothing and Household Linens - Does It Kill Enough Germs?


The International Scientific Forum on Home Hygiene (IFH) 2011 report on infection risks associated with clothing and household linens, published in April 2011, has lead to concerns being raised in the media and elsewhere about the effectiveness of low temperature laundry processes in dealing with these risks. 


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In this 2011 report IFH concluded that: “Overall the weight of evidence presented in this report indicates that clothing and household linens are an important potential risk factor for transmission of infection in home and everyday life settings resulting from normal daily activities. The data suggest that the greatest risks occur immediately after contact with, or shedding from, an infected source. The full report can be found at:


Washing Machine

1. As stated in the IFH fact/advice sheet on laundry, IFH recommends the following conditions for laundering of clothing, household linens, etc:

  • In situations where there is high risk (i.e. where someone in the home is infected - e.g. shedding pathogens in feces or from their skin - or there is someone who is particularly vulnerable to infection), underwear, clothing and household linens, such as bed linens and towels, should be washed at 140°F (60°C) or more using a bleach-based laundry product and following manufacturer’s instructions. This also applies to:
    • Uniforms of healthcare workers which are laundered at home.
    • Clothing which is heavily soiled e.g. with feces or vomit (including re-usable babies’ diapers).
    • Sports clothing, particularly for high-contact sports such as football, judo, wrestling, etc. 
    • Cloths and towels used in the kitchen during food preparation.

All items of potentially contaminated laundry should be washed separately from other items. It is important that people wash their hands thoroughly after handling soiled laundry. 


2. In view of the need to also take account of concerns about the environmental impact of high temperature laundry processes, for normal day-to-day situations:

  • On the basis of current evidence IFH concludes that laundering of items which come into direct contact with the body (such as underclothing (including socks), towels, bed linens and other personal items) at 86-104°F (30-40°C) with a bleach-based laundry product (following dosage instructions) is sufficient to manage any risks. 
  • Laundering at 104°F (40°C) or less with a non bleach-based product is considered to carry a risk of inadequate decontamination, but is considered satisfactory for items of outer clothing such as jackets, skirts, trousers etc. which are considered as “low risk”. 
Further information on handling and laundering of clothing can be found in the IFH fact/advice sheet:



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Laundering of Clothing and Household Linens - Does It Kill Enough Germs?:  Created on November 21st, 2011.  Last Modified on June 10th, 2013


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About IFH


The International Scientific Forum on Home Hygiene (IFH) is a registered charity with the mission to provide practical advice and guidance on the promotion of health and well-being through improved hygiene. Its main activities include reviewing, interpreting, making accessible and communicating the scientific data relevant to preventing infectious disease transmission in the home.


For more information, see the IFH Website



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