By Glen Ramsey, BCE
When it comes to chores, one of the most daunting is laundry. It can pile up, and without even realizing it, your dirty clothes are everywhere. Pests are similar. They can be introduced slowly and unnoticeably, until suddenly there is a large problem.
We often don’t consider the cleanliness of a shared laundry facility because doing laundry is synonymous with getting things clean. Unfortunately, the facilities themselves are not as spotless as we might think. Pests commonly seek places of warmth, with food, moisture, and shelter—and shared laundry facilities offer each of these draws. Because of this, pest management professionals are taking note and encouraging facility managers and staff to do the same.
Despite having a laundry list of tasks to make each day successful, effective pest management needs to be prioritized. Not doing so leaves your facility open to negative publicity, property damage, and even potential lawsuits, as well as putting your patients’ health and safety at risk through heightened spread of pathogens and diseases.
Fortunately, there are beneficial steps you can take even in the most sensitive of healthcare environments. As part of an integrated pest management (IPM) plan, ongoing sanitation, monitoring, and maintenance of pest “hot spots”—such as the laundry room—are key ways to help prevent pest problems. After a thorough inspection, a customized IPM program can be developed for your facility and its unique pest pressures, whether you have a problem with ants, cockroaches, rodents, or others.
As you work to implement a customized IPM, you might be wondering, “How do these pests even enter the shared laundry facility?” From baskets to wiring, there are a few ways that pests make their way into this space:
- Laundry baskets: Most likely, residents and guests in long-term care facilities are placing laundry baskets atop neighboring washing machines or on folding tables. These can be the most infested areas as other residents bring their pests from their homes through their baskets and linens. Additionally, surfaces in laundry facilities often have crevices and areas in which pests can hide. For coin-operated washing machines and dryers, many pests, including ants, flies, and bedbugs, can hide in plain sight within the extra surface area for coin collection. To avoid these issues, place baskets on the ground where intruding pests will be easily visible.
- Electric lines: With the amount of electric lines traveling into a shared laundry facility, rodents and other pests have prime avenues of entry. Ants are notorious for finding their way through electric lines to their destination of choice. Mice and rats can also sneak through small cracks at electric line entrances, needing only dime- or quarter-sized holes.
- Food: The presence of food in a laundry facility may seem unlikely, but it is more common than you think. For some people, doing laundry is a waiting game: Residents of a long-term care facility may sit for hours as they launder their linens and clothes. Sometimes they bring food and drinks into the facility and leave crumbs, trash, or debris behind when they depart, which are prime food sources for cockroaches and ants.
When it comes to shared laundry facilities, some pests are more common than others. Bedbugs, for example, are prevalent in facilities with shared living spaces. As the number of bedbug cases at healthcare facilities continues to grow, it’s critical to detect and treat for them as early as possible. The laundry room is a key part of this effort. Inspect clothing, bedding, and linens for bedbugs (flat, reddish-brown, oval insects about the size of an apple seed) or signs of them, including small brown stains and shed skins.
Bedbugs spread quickly and tend to stay out of sight unless they are feeding. For that reason, it’s important to regularly check behind baseboards, outlet covers, and torn wallpaper, as well as under broken floor or ceiling tiles—any place that bedbugs could easily hide if brought in with the dirty laundry. Since bedbugs are attracted to heat, don’t forget to check around, under, and behind the dryers.
So with these potential hazards in mind, how can healthcare facilities avoid the pitfalls of a shared laundry room, keep everything clean, and keep residents healthy?
- Start from the outside. If there are any exterior doors or windows, make sure they fit tightly and install door sweeps that seal the door to the ground. Additionally, have maintenance caulk any and all crevices to help prevent pest activity.
- Make sure floors and surfaces stay free of piles of clothing, litter, and other debris. Similarly, don’t keep laundry baskets or hampers filled overnight. A clean and open floor allows for regular sweeping and mopping to remove residue that can attract ants.
- Empty the lint traps regularly. Ants and flies can live in these and sneak onto the surface of a dryer.
- If the laundry room is also used to store mops, brooms, or other cleaning supplies, keep them dry, organized, and off the floor.
- Do not place storage racks flush against the wall. As a general rule, keep an 18-inch gap between the wall and the rack.
- Prior to washing, inspect clothing, bedding, and linens for pests or evidence of pest presence such as droppings, chew marks, or shed exoskeletons.
- Ensure staff take the trash out twice daily from laundry facilities—preferably once in the morning and once in the evening—so that there are fewer attractive food sources for pests.
The best way to avoid an introduction of pests through a shared laundry facility is to work closely with your staff and your pest management provider. Your pest management provider can share the key markers of a potential pest introduction, as well as tips and tricks to spot issues. Use that information to train staff members on diligent cleaning practices and head off a major infestation before it starts.
Glen Ramsey, BCE, is technical services manager for Orkin. He is a board-certified entomologist and provides technical support and guidance across all Rollins brands in the areas of training and education, operations, and marketing. For more information, email email@example.com or visit www.orkincommercial.com.