Clean scrubs are essential, so knowing how to wash scrubs in the washing machine to remove harmful bacteria and other contaminants is key.
By following our recommended steps, you can keep your most comfortable scrubs germ free with every wash.
How to Wash Scrubs in the Washing Machine: Step by Step
If you follow our basic guidelines for how to wash scrubs, you can look forward to them staying crisp, clean, and professional-looking longer than they otherwise would.
Although there are some recommendations specific to scrubs made from different fabric types, the basic process is easy to follow.
Step 1: Separate Scrubs from Regular Laundry
Separating your scrubs from the rest of your laundry is an essential first step to keep your other laundry away from the harmful contaminants that you might have on your scrubs.
Separating your scrubs also helps prevent pilling and fading that is possible with both cotton and polyester scrubs. The material used for these garments needs special care to keep it looking fresh and new longer.
Step 2: Pretreat Stains
Before tossing your scrubs in the wash, it’s best to address each of the stains with the appropriate type of stain remover. Some individuals prefer to use an all-purpose stain remover, but if your scrubs are dark in color, you might want to look into products intended for darker clothing.
It’s a good idea to pretreat any stains before putting your scrubs through a wash cycle, as this will help remove more of the stain during the first wash. Some stains will require a little light scrubbing with a soft brush to work in the stain remover.
Step 3: Wash and Disinfect Scrubs
Before washing your scrubs, you’ll want to turn them inside out to prevent pilling and scuffing on the exterior surface of the garment. Some people like to wash their scrubs twice: once in cold water to remove stains, and again in hotter water to disinfect them.
Make sure to set your washer to a large or extra-large load size even if the amount of scrubs you’re washing is small. The extra space will help clean them better and prevent unnecessary wear by letting them move around more freely.
Not all scrubs require disinfecting, but it’s a necessary step for many individuals who work in specific environments or have immunocompromised people living in their homes. In this step, you can add color-safe bleach to your washing machine’s built-in bleach dispenser.
If you prefer not to use color-safe bleach on your scrubs, several other disinfecting products are available, such as pine oil or phenolic disinfectant.
If the person doing laundry in your home has an immune-compromised system, for safety, make sure they wear rubber gloves in steps 1 to 3.
Step 4: Dry Scrubs on High Heat
Even though your wash cycle should kill most of the germs and bacteria on your scrubs, drying your scrubs on high heat will eliminate any leftover harmful organisms.
If your current dryer doesn’t have a sanitizing option, you’ll want to dry your scrubs on high heat for at least thirty minutes.
Once you’ve dried your scrubs thoroughly on high heat, you’ll want to remove them from the dryer promptly and iron out any creases before hanging them up. Ironing your scrubs provides additional sanitizing and keeps your scrubs looking crisp and fresh.
Step 5: Store Scrubs in a Plastic Dry-Cleaning Bag
Once you’ve thoroughly washed and dried your scrubs and confirmed they are free from any bacteria or germs, we recommend you hang them up and cover them with a dry-cleaning bag, or put them in a clean, dry plastic bag.
This will help ensure your freshly washed scrubs stay as clean as possible and don’t get contaminated from contact with your other clothing.
How to Wash Scrubs For the First Time
Before wearing your scrubs for the first time, it’s a good idea to wash them first in cold water with a half cup of vinegar. The vinegar will help set the color of your scrubs and make them more resistant to fading, helping them last longer.
The disinfection process is a bit harsh on your scrubs, and without the vinegar wash, you’re more likely to see color fading over time and general wear. The effect is more intense with darker colored scrubs but isn’t as noticeable on white scrubs.
How to Wash Polyester Scrubs vs. Cotton Scrubs
Cotton scrubs and polyester scrubs require slightly different treatments to help prolong their useful life, but you can still use similar laundry products for both fabric types. When washing 100% cotton scrubs, you’ll want to use cold water to prevent them from shrinking or fading excessively.
To soften the fabric without a commercial softener, a half cup of distilled white vinegar during the rinse cycle works well. If you use vinegar, you can also line-dry your scrubs, and they’ll stay relatively soft.
It’s best to use disinfecting laundry detergent with cotton scrubs as you’ll need to dry them on the lowest setting in your dryer to prevent shrinking, or line-dry them in full sun.
Polyester scrubs are typically a blend of cotton and polyester, so they do best when washed in warm water with color-safe bleach. These scrubs don’t do well when washed in hot water as it can set-in stains.
On the bright side, you can dry polyester scrubs on your dryer’s regular heat cycle to help kill germs. Polyester scrubs are less likely to shrink than cotton when exposed to warmer temperatures.
How to Remove Tough Stains From Your Scrubs
Removing stains from your scrubs will depend on the type of stain present. We’ll go over the most common types of stains and how you can efficiently remove each one to keep your scrubs clean.
Removing blood stains is quite tricky on lighter fabrics and with larger-sized stains. To get the best results, try soaking the scrubs in cold water first, which keeps the proteins in the blood from setting into the fabric.
After the scrubs have soaked a bit, you can run cold water over the stain to rinse away as much as possible before using heavy-duty laundry detergent or stain remover. Avoid using regular soap, as this can leave a residue that makes any remaining stain harder to remove during washing.
Vomit, Urine, and Veces
Vomit, urine, and feces are also protein-based stains, which means you should avoid using hot water in favor of an initial cold water soak. Remove any excess debris with a disposable utensil or tongue depressor using a scraping motion to keep from pushing the stain farther into the fibers.
Flush with a generous amount of cold water and pretreat all areas with heavy-duty detergent or a stain remover. When you put this garment in the wash, you can add a half cup of baking soda if you want to help get rid of odors.
The ingredients in liquid medications vary widely, but it’s usually the added dyes that cause staining. As you get familiar with these staining dyes, you’ll figure out how to wash scrubs with these types of stains more reliably.
An excellent first step is to try an oxygen-based bleach product to cold water and soak the scrubs for at least an hour or even overnight. Allowing the scrubs time to soak will help remove more of the stain but won’t fade the fabric.
After the soak, you can wash the scrubs as you usually would. However, it’s important to confirm you’ve gotten rid of the stain entirely before putting the scrubs in the dryer.
Removing iodine stains works best when you soak the scrubs in warm water with an enzyme-based product or a heavy-duty detergent. You’ll want to soak your scrubs for at least twenty minutes and avoid using cold water as it’s not as effective.
After soaking, you can wash the scrubs as normal and use an oxygen-based bleach to eliminate any lingering stain.
Check the scrubs after washing to make sure the stain is completely gone, and if any of it remains, you can soak them again in room temperature water with more oxygen-based bleach for at least four hours, but preferably overnight.
Ointments are oil-based, which means you’ll need to treat them differently than other stains and use warm or hot water.
Before getting your scrubs wet, remove any excess ointment with a flat-edged tool to avoid working the stain into the fibers more, and apply some heavy-duty detergent.
Let the detergent sit for ten minutes before flushing with hot water and checking to see if the stain is gone. If some discoloration remains, you can add more detergent and repeat the process before washing the scrubs as you usually would.
How Often to Wash Scrubs?
It’s best to wash your scrubs after each wear, so you don’t unintentionally bring contaminants into your home or workplace. Wearing your scrubs multiple times also exposes you to greater levels of contaminants from your job and bacteria that can be hazardous to your health.
Also, if you plan to run errands during your break or go out to lunch, we recommend changing your clothes to ensure you don’t bring back unwanted contaminants into your workplace.
If you’re a healthcare professional, knowing how to wash scrubs in the washing machine properly is very important for both you and your patient’s health. Fortunately, by using the tips above, you’ll be able to keep your scrubs bacteria and germ free.