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Are Soiled Linens Considered Medical Waste?

Sharps, surgical instruments, and red bag waste are all held to the same laws for medical waste disposal, but what about soiled linens?

Medical waste segregation and using properly marked containers is not only good practice, it’s economical and leads to less waste.  Medical waste segregation deals with sharps waste, red bag waste, and general hazardous waste.  While there are plenty of examples of what’s considered regulated medical waste under these categories, there is some confusion over whether soiled linens are considered medical waste and how to deal with them properly.

Some Examples of Healthcare Linens

Without clean linens, a hospital or clinic cannot function. Examples of linens used in the medical industry include gowns, bedding and blankets, towels, and other similar items used in various healthcare facilities.

But Are Linens Medical Waste?

While linens in a healthcare setting may become contaminated with infectious waste such as blood or blood products, they are not disposed of and treated like medical waste.

According to OSHA, some hospitals believe they must place the contaminated linens in red bags because of OSHA’s Bloodborne Pathogens (BBP) Standard.  The definition of “regulated waste” does not include contaminated linens that will be laundered and reused.

However, even though soiled linens are not considered medical waste by definition, appropriate steps must be taken to handle linens that are soiled with blood and blood products.

Best practices include providing necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) in order to prevent skin and mucous membrane exposure to blood and body substances. Used linens should be bagged at the point of origin and placed into an appropriate laundry receptacle.

All used linens should not be rinsed or sorted in patient care areas or washed in domestic washing machines. Any linen that is soiled with body substances should be placed into leak-proof laundry bags for safe transport for professional laundering, and staff should practice thorough hand hygiene following the handling of used linen.

Of course, some local laws have specific requirements for handling soiled linens, so always check with your state to ensure your compliance and safety.

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