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A hygiene commitment for the textile care industry

05 August 2020

While governmental lockdowns forced many businesses to close their doors, many Ecolab textile care customers rapidly transformed their operations to support in the fight against COVID-19. Bert Bakker, vice president corporate accounts Textile Care at Ecolab Europe, reflects on the past few months and provides insight that will help commercial laundries restart safely and build resilience in the future.

Scientific studies like the one published in the Journal of Hospital Infection demonstrate that the virus continues to live on inanimate surfaces for up to nine days. This finding has increased the need for efficacious hygiene and infection prevention solutions. “Ecolab has recorded a demand of more than 1500% on personal hygiene products with virucidal efficacy, such as soap and hand disinfectant,“ said Bert Bakker.

As organisations and individuals have ramped up their efforts to prevent the spread, clear guidelines and protocols have been needed to protect facilities and people and help boost confidence of consumers as activities restarted.

Ecolab has not only increased production by seven-fold to provide critical disinfection and hygiene products where they were most needed, it also developed programmes for industries that helped transform customers operations. Bakker observed: “As the expert in our field, we had to step up our efforts to support the textile industry and we designed a program, called PROTEX360°, to help combat COVID-19 with environmental and hand hygiene in focus.”

For professional laundries, environmental hygiene and efficacious wash programmes have always been a priority. Clean linens and facilities are essential to successful operations. However, in a matter of weeks, efficacy took a new meaning.

“The safety of patients and consumers starts in the laundry,” said Bakker. “In the new pandemic context, the laundry has to ensure that the wash eradicates viruses and that the process that follows the wash avoids cross-contamination of the clean linen and protects the final customer.”

Bacteria and fungi have been upstaged by the Coronavirus and virucidal programmes, tested and validated according to the Biocidal Products Regulation (BPR), and registered with expert institutions such as the Robert Koch Institute or the German Association for Applied Hygiene (VAH), have been in high demand. 

Identifying linked parameters

There are three closely linked parameters that define an efficacious viricidal laundry programme: the amount of detergent, the temperature, and the wash time. The detergent is combined to a registered, approved disinfectant. The dosage, the temperature and the contact time of the registered procedure have to be strictly applied and respected.

When the crisis first hit Europe and lockdown measures started to affect laundries, the Ecolab textile care division was urgently called upon to help implement viricidal programmes. Hospitals, long term care facilities and commercial laundries had to ensure they were effectively cleaning and disinfecting contaminated towels and bed linen, playing a critical role to help stop the spread.

Back in March, Ecolab customers in France had to urgently be set up in just three days. The local team was able to respond and cover a total of 15 sites, ensuring the proper implementation of the viricidal wash processes. At the front line, a hospital in Paris’ thirteenth arrondissement required support to wash linens that has been used to treat confirmed cases of COVID-19.

The added challenge, besides implementing a viricidal certified wash programme proven effective in cleaning contaminated linen, was also complying with strict regulations around the temperature of water that can be discharged.  Thanks to the remote innovative systems like enVision, the team was able to monitor and change dosage at a distance. 

Examples of exceptional contributions at the peak of the pandemic are too numerous to list. From Italy to the Nordics, Ecolab supported professional laundries that answered to a governmental mandate to clean linens for the army, healthcare facilities and temporary hospitals being set up to help fight the virus. Many were handling hotel laundries and needed to adapt their operations in a matter of hours with the right disinfection process. 

Laundry customers continue to transform the way they work to the new normal and Ecolab is supporting them daily to keep their businesses running. While many professional laundries quickly responded to help combat the virus, many businesses that supported the hospitality industry closed their doors during the lockdowns.

As measures started to ease, reopening was a challenge and they needed expert guidance and protocols. Ecolab provided more than 400 hours of trainings and webinars over the past weeks to thousands of businesses across Europe. Through these technical conversations, it became evident that hygiene and cleanliness is of greater concern and professional laundries are investing to heighten their standards. 

Planning a complete hygiene solution
Hygiene has to be a complete solution. Ecolab’s holistic approach is proven effective because it combines efficacious products, expertise, training and service. Nothing is left to chance and all four main areas of the laundry are critically look at to achieve maximum operational and hygiene efficiency.

“Our customers needed a partner they could trust,” said Bert Bakker. “They need to know their business is in safe hands. We launched the PROTEX360° Laundry Protection programme to not only help them reopen safely but also set up their operations with a more hygienic design. Our priority is to both support their business with safe procedures and help them regain volume.”

Reopening has required a commitment to hygiene from professional laundries. They have needed to plan the change in advance, starting with a deep-clean of the facilities and implementing in advance reliable hygiene processes to efficiently manage resources. The preferred set up combines the right hand and surface disinfectant products and tools, to training and clear signage and wallcharts to reinforce the right behaviours.

As activities restart, execution and monitoring make hygiene easier to comply with. The management has to pay particular attention to the established hygiene procedures and monitoring of the risk of re-contamination after opening. The integrated programme’s objective is to help customers achieve 360° protection by combining proper cleaning and disinfection of textiles around five pillars:

  1. Textile washing solutions
  2. Hygiene plans to protect linen, people and facilities
  3. BIO-contamination control
  4. Technical support
  5. Training. 

PROTEX360° programme
It’s important to protect the textiles and prevent any recontamination from pathogens till the textiles are delivered at the final customers. The pillars of the programme introduced by Ecolab elevate the holistic hygiene approach to new heightened standards. It provides laundries with guidance to achieve a broad efficacy spectrum of disinfection against bacteria, yeast, fungi, virus, including SARS-CoV-2, using the D+ registered processes.

'Safe' textiles combine effective washing and disinfection processes, with control and monitoring of the hygienical conditions of the washing machine conditions (control of biocontamination in the press area, for example) and 'safe' surfaces in the clean pre-drying area or in the finish one.

The programme was also designed to provide guidelines, protocols, and procedures for ensuring the safe use of chemicals needed to clean and disinfect the different areas of the laundry facility.

The procedures are focused around the activities that take place inside the laundry site with three main building blocks well-defined, protection of textiles (soiled linen area, clean area, finishing area), protection of people (hand hygiene and employee garments cleaning and disinfection) and protection of surfaces.

Within each area surfaces that need to be cleaned and disinfected have been identified including all the high tough points, and recommendations and instructions are provided for the operators on product use, the right concentration and contact time, with a specific focus for viricidal efficacy and COVID-19 protection.

Productivity and process optimisation are critical to a commercial laundry and Ecolab’s PROTEX360° programme aims to leverage the hygiene plan to control the biocontamination risk and improve operations.

Laundries need support in their certification path (to either follow RAL guidelines, or EN14065 and/or EN 14698 norms) and Ecolab’s team of experts combine knowledge and training to set up, monitor and adapt the right hygiene protocols. 

Being able to adapt hygiene protocols to “the new normal” post COVID-19 outbreak and communicate efforts effectively have become the highest priorities for laundries and their customers. 

Restore trust with end customers
To sustain the long-term change for more hygienic and safer operations, the laundry has to clearly communicate with employees and customers about the new processes in place, resources available and commitment to safety.

“The perception of clean, germ-free and hygienic textiles has never been more important than it is today: it’s not enough to be clean,” said Bert Bakker.

“That is why we are also heavily investing in our training pillar so that our experts can provide their know-how about hygiene concepts, basics of washing process and product use for disinfection in the washing and on surfaces and hands.

"By bringing greater flexibility and agility in our supply chain, we were able to launch two new hand disinfectants, Manodes GP and Skinman Soft Protect FF, to supply our customers who needed it most. Touch is critical in a laundry and hand hygiene is one the most effective actions anyone can take to reduce the spread of the virus. We wanted to be able to provide efficacious solutions to help our customers run safe operations.”

Over the past weeks, commercial laundries have started their investment and transformation to implement a new hygiene plan for safer operations. Set up of the Ecolab PROTEX360° programme requires up to 32 hours of work, half of which is dedicated to training staff and adopting new procedures. The industry is committed to hygiene for the long-term and Ecolab says it recognises its customers dedication for safer, cleaner and healthier behaviours.