Reusable Medical Linens: The Safe, Green Choice

An ongoing debate in the healthcare community is whether reusable or disposable gowns and linens are best. Many factors play into each facility’s decision as to which to purchase. Here are a few for consideration.

Environmental Stewardship

Disposable products are used once and then thrown away. The trade-off for this “convenience” is millions of tons of waste each year in the country’s landfills. According to the industry trade organization the Textile Rental Services Association, hospitals generate approximately three million tons of waste per year. Waste from disposable linens has the potential to seep into groundwater and contaminate water supplies. Burned medical waste also pollutes the environment.

Reusable critics often point to the fact that these products require water and energy to launder during the life cycle of the garment. It is important to note, disposables use these same resources, are worn once and then discarded. A whole new set of resources is then expended to create a whole new set of disposables.

While reusables require resources such as water and energy, today’s laundering process reflects the impact of research and new technology, which has made this process highly efficient and effective. Commercial healthcare linen services are able to wash a pound of textiles with less than three-quarters of a gallon of water AND recycle and reuse their water. Advanced wastewater treatment systems discharge cleaned water safely into sewer systems. gester instruments textile testing instruments textile testing equipment manufacturers

Equipment that relies on natural gas and oil has also decreased usage of these resources due to heat reclamation and other processes which reclaim heat.

“Hidden” Costs

A common misconception about disposables is that the only cost is the cost to purchase the individual linen. In fact, there are many variables besides the purchase price to be considered including: the cost of disposal, environmental impact, warehousing costs, occupational health costs, and liability costs. For many healthcare consumers, these factors actually make disposables twice as expensive as reusable linens.


When selecting medical linens, the standard set by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) calls for garments to be, “appropriate for the task and degree of exposure to bloodborne pathogens and infectious bacteria anticipated.” A recent study shows that when laundered properly, reusable garments and drapes are 70 percent more effective in providing barrier protection.


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