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If the pandemic brought to mind questions about how to properly clean and sanitize your laundry, you’re not alone. Due to an increase in consumer questions related to best laundry practices over the past year, the American Cleaning Institute (ACI) recently released a guide about the best laundry care for better overall household health. The guide outlines three “levels” of laundry you can implement — each with a different degree of care depending on the current wellness status of your home. 

“There’s routine everyday cleaning and then there are the extra steps and enhanced precautions you should be taking when a family member is sick or has a weakened immune system,” reads ACI’s website. “We relied on laundry safety experts to determine what precautions were recommended when and created a three-level laundry guide for best laundry practices for better health. Know the Levels of Laundry and how to step up your laundry routine, when needed, to help care for you and your family.”

Here are the three levels of laundry that you should know, according to ACI. 

This level should be your method when everyone in your household is healthy. At “low” status, you can do laundry as you normally would and wait until a convenient laundry day to wash things. Use detergent and wash and dry at any temperature (and yes, that includes cold). “Most of the time, a healthy household is low risk and can do the laundry as usual and wash in cold water,” says ACI. 

Additionally, you can boost this level of laundry by adding laundry sanitizer like Lysol Laundry Sanitizer or any EPA registered laundry sanitizer to your wash load. Laundry sanitizer will combat odor-causing bacteria, and it can be helpful depending on your family’s activity level and how much the clothing is soiled. To find out if a product is EPA registered (meaning it will kill coronavirus when used according to the label directions), you can use List N Tool: COVID-19 Disinfectants on the EPA’s website. 

And don’t forget to wash your hands after handling soiled laundry (on any level). 

You and your loved ones should follow the medium level laundry instructions whenever a member of the household has a respiratory illness (such as COVID-19, the flu, and colds). “Medium” laundry (along with the high level of laundry) should always be handled and washed as soon as possible. Use a deeper cleaning detergent like Tide Hygienic Clean Power Pods and wash and dry on a warm setting. At this level, it’s OK to wash the laundry of the person who is sick with other people’s items. And of course, you can still add an EPA registered laundry sanitizer or even bleach to your load, as you would at the low level. Make sure, however, to wear gloves when handling the soiled clothing and don’t shake your items too much — it could transfer germs from dirty to clean clothing. After you wash, remember to disinfect any surfaces where dirty laundry has been, and then wash your hands to prevent the spread of the illness.  

High: Enhanced Precautions

If there are members of your household with enteric infections (i.e. vomiting and diarrhea), who have weakened immune systems, or have returned from work with potentially contaminated clothes, your laundry should be washed with high-level care. Like the medium level, you should launder with a deeper-cleaning detergent, but using an EPA registered laundry sanitizer or bleach is not optional. The sick person’s clothing should also be separated from those of other family members, washed and dried on hot, and handled with gloves. Again, don’t shake the clothes, and afterwards wash hands and disinfect all surfaces that the soiled items came in contact with. Additionally, check your washing machine for a sanitizing cycle. Some machines have them, and it can help add an extra line of defense.