As the world continues to emerge from the ravages created by the Covid-19 pandemic, the cleaning, laundering and textile rental sector are well on with re-building their businesses and learning the lessons of the last eighteen months. In the UK, the Laundry Technology Centre Worldwide (LTC Worldwide) reviews the progress and implementation of its wide-ranging suite of research projects and looks at the effectiveness of technical progress in the sector and the results achieved.

The impact of Covid-19

Coping with the crisis and simply staying in business has been the main challenge for some. For others, especially for those serving healthcare, the pandemic has brought opportunities to participate in the massive ramp-up in healthcare services that the emergency has generated. The rapid learning curve has embraced sourcing of very large quantities of re-usable workwear, especially scrub suits and gowns. It has meant addressing productivity issues in novel ways and achieving this with smaller increases in water and energy demand than might have been possible only a few years ago. It has called for better, more agile management at every level, with many organisations implementing changes in under twelve months which would normally have taken five years.

Meanwhile, the challenging demand for every aspect of quality improvement in food industry workwear, for example, has continued unabated, with the increasingly detailed requirement for workwear which is assuredly allergen-free now almost universal.

This month we look at just what we have learned and how its implementation is driving forward both the market leaders and the small, single site operators who have taken the opportunities offered.

Dealing with Covid-19

As the early information from Wuhan in China gradually started to dominate the media during January 2020, few launderers could really believe the predictions of the virologists that it was not a case of whether or not the virus would spread worldwide, but when it would. As it gradually dawned on politicians, launderers, hotel chains, cruise liner operators, healthcare providers and the rest, just what ‘exponential increases’ meant, a degree of panic set in at every level.

Fortunately, research labs in the UK, Germany and the United States were quick off the mark and able to describe the virus structure and consider methods of dealing with it. Their work was greatly helped by the early release from China of the genomic data emerging from their labs. As a consequence of this, combined with information on other coronaviruses, the laundering and rental sectors in many countries were able to answer the frantic queries they were getting from their customers as to whether the textiles they were receiving for workwear, hospitality and healthcare were guaranteed ‘Covid-free’.

In practice, the suppliers of laundry chemicals (who in many regions take responsibility for process design and effectiveness) were able to cope with this very quickly. Although Covid-19 is believed to be sensitive to wash temperature, early work suggested that the standard healthcare disinfection cycle (involving maintaining 71C for 3 minutes plus mixing time) was not in itself sufficient. However, as this particular corona virus is enclosed in a fatty envelope, if temperature is combined with appropriate detergent, then this will remove or destroy it.

Unusually for a European nation, much basic healthcare workwear in the UK is washed at home and at least one NHS trust put out advice that any ambulance worker’s garment could continue to be home-washed at 60C, presumably with the assumption that this would entail a domestic detergent.

‘At least one NHS trust put out advice that any ambulance worker’s garment could continue to be home-washed at 60C’

Low temperature disinfection

In an interesting continuation of their work on Covid-19, some suppliers combined temperature and detergency with some chemical assistance, presumably to ensure a complete kill on any heavily infected garment. One such process involved peracetic acid and offered evidence of success right down to 40C. Another involved the use of ozone injection into both the 40C wash and cold rinse stages of the process. This was certified independently by de Montfort University in the UK and demonstrated the effective harnessing of the very powerful disinfectant action of ozone in washer extractors over a range of sizes, right down to the 23kg machines in use in many care home laundries.

This was important because care home laundering is carried out on-site by staff with relatively little training, sometimes on a shift extending to only four hours. This can mean that time is at a considerable premium and it is not possible to raise every wash to NHS disinfection temperatures (particularly if there isn’t a sufficient hot water system and the water has to be heated to 71C by small electric elements in the machines themselves). Use of ozone enables the care home laundry to disinfect to NHS standards (including against Covid 19) and achieve the requisite 5 Log10 kill at achievable low temperatures. There has not yet been sufficient work done to link the potential improvements, now possible in care-home laundries, to reductions in infection outbreaks among residents, but it would make sound sense to either proceed with this at pace or simply to extend the NHS disinfection requirement to care homes directly. In the UK, care home residents appeared to feature in a larger share of the total deaths from Covid-19 than some would have expected.

Allergen-free workwear for the food industry

Meanwhile, the food industry maintained normal volumes during the pandemic and increased its emphasise on allergen-free textiles and its reliance on the providers of its laundering and rental services for this. Intensive work by LTC has continued to develop the adoption of best practice across the sector, which now involves the latest monitoring techniques to underpin the guarantees demanded by food processors.

It is now possible for a laundering and rental service provider to carry out simple in-house checks on the continuing effectiveness of their processes with regard to allergen removal. These can be conducted in between the major, exhaustive annual checks, using ELISA testing in a registered independent laboratory, to verify the absence of a full range of allergens on the workwear it is supplying for multiple re-use.

The simple in-house checks are conducted using calibrated test swatches supplied by the Swiss testing supplier, EMPA. The test swatches are stitched to a carrier cloth and processed once in the target process. They are then assessed and scored numerically and the results compared with the minimum needed, as indicated by LTC research.

This testing regime is not only economically viable, it is also producing consistently good results (no detectable allergens) on almost every annual set of ELISA results.

‘It is now possible for a laundering and rental service provider to carry out simple in-house checks on the continuing effectiveness of their processes with regard to allergen removal’


The LTC Research Programme is part-funded by central taxation via HMRC in the UK, to which due acknowledgement is made. The results of its research are published monthly in Laundry and Cleaning News articles and we are grateful for this means of dissemination. Our current programme involves the sector contribution to reducing its carbon footprint in the UK and increasingly worldwide. We believe that there is still much to be achieved here (some with little or no investment) and this belief is supported by the year-on-year reductions monitored independently by the UK Textile Services Association, which recorded an average drop of more than 25% in unit demand (in kWh/ kg textiles processed) since 2008, for example. Less widely known is the work of LTC on the reduction in laundry fire risk which is now achievable, with relatively modest changes in management and technology. Our R & D work continues to be pragmatic and it involves an ever changing number of research partners, mostly in the UK. Our thanks to them all.

  • If you have problem that you think LTC Worldwide can help with, or that you feel would make a good subject for Material Solutions, please call T: 00 44 (0) 816545