Studies show that soft surfaces are a possible vehicle for hospital acquired infections (HAIs); however, disinfectants should not be used on porous materials. Alternate technologies, such as dry steam vapor and hot water extraction, may be necessary for items that can't be laundered.

At Shady Lane the most challenging soft surfaces to clean are the lounge chairs, according to Moffat. "You can only sanitize soft surfaces, so we do our best to clean them with hot water extraction and stain removers, as needed," she says.

Housekeepers should also exercise caution when cleaning durable-coated fabrics, as these may be susceptible to degradation from disinfectants.

"Something I work on regularly is how we're cleaning and disinfecting durable-coated fabrics," says Solomon. "When EVS technicians use caustic disinfectants, they're creating a breakdown of these fabrics and they're losing their lifespan. A chair that's supposed to last 10 years may get tears or punctures, and that creates an opportunity for microorganisms to flourish. So not only is it an infection prevention concern, but it's a cost concern."

When it comes to choosing the appropriate cleaning products, Solomon tells her clients that the label is the law. She urges them to always follow the manufacturer's specifications for cleaners and disinfectants. Using a disinfectant off label can cause damage, as Hicks discovered during his employment at a hospital.

"We used bleach wipes on the mattress covers for C.diff patients, and after eight months, approximately 80 of the 360 covers had noticeably faded," says Hicks. "The manufacturer's rep informed us that we had voided the warranty. We were given 13 covers to replace the worst ones and we had to purchase the rest."

Privacy curtains are yet another source of contagion that is often neglected due to time constraints. In the absence of standards, laundering frequencies vary widely from one hospital to another.

"As a general rule privacy curtains are cleaned every six months, but we clean ours every three months," says Bristol. "We also clean them when a patient in isolation has been discharged."

Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend laundering linens and privacy curtains in a water temperature of at least 160 degrees for a minimum of 25 minutes. Yet, despite housekeeping's best efforts, studies show that privacy curtains can be recontaminated soon after laundering.

"If we changed curtains and laundered them as often as they should be, they would fall apart within six months," says Hicks. One possible solution is to use disposable curtains that can be changed in as little as 30 seconds. According to Hicks, one manufacturer provides software that documents curtain changes according to hospital protocol and prompts the user when it is time to replace them.

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Consistent Protocol Key To Infection Control