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Ask Dr. Laundry

Ask Dr. Laundry

Disinfecting Colored Items

By Dr. Laundry December 30, 2008

Q. I am looking for information about Clorox® brand products that can be used to disinfect laundry in a medical facility. The laundry consists of colored fabric but could have blood/body fluids in the fibers. I need to know the options for properly disinfecting these items without removing color.

A. I get this type of question a lot, especially for disinfecting colored fabric — and I do not know of a product for disinfecting colored clothes.

For your white and bleachable light colors, it’s pretty straightforward. Simply wash in hot water using detergent and 3/4 cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach1.

Unfortunately, there currently is NOT a Clorox product for disinfecting colored clothes. Our Clorox 2® Stain Remover & Color Booster for colors contains hydrogen peroxide as its active ingredient. It is a much weaker bleach than the sodium hypochlorite found in Clorox® Regular-Bleach1 and is not capable of meeting EPA disinfecting requirements.

Dealing with blood stains usually requires a separate treatment like presoaking in cool water using a good enzyme-containing laundry detergent product before washing. If the stain is not totally removed, washing in hot water will usually set the remaining stain.

As I have written previously, the best way to reduce germ counts in (colored) laundry are:

  • Use the hottest wash water recommended on the care label (you might also do more than one wash on these items to further reduce the bacteria count).
  • Consider washing the items of concern separately so that the germs are NOT spread to more items — transfer can occur in the washer and when transferring/handling items from the washer to the dryer
  • Use the hottest dryer setting recommended on the care label, and dry the items separately to maximize germ reduction. While the dryer isn’t capable of killing all the bacteria, it will help lower the germ count.
  • Finally, to prevent further germ spread, I would do a white load using detergent and 3/4 cup Clorox® Regular-Bleach1 after these items have been washed. It works as a kind of mouthwash for your washer.

Also, check the colored items for Bleachability. It’s surprising how many things labeled as Do Not Bleach are actually OK to use liquid bleach on. Do the quick Bleachability/colorfast Test on a hidden part of the colored item (Add 2 tsp. Clorox® Regular-Bleach1 in 1/4 cup water; apply a drop on a hidden color section area like inside seam, hemline or cuff; wait 1 minute and then blot with towel). No color change means it is safe to use liquid bleach on the item.