How to Safely Handle Chemo Patients’ Laundry

Caregivers often have plenty to do when helping a mesothelioma patient through treatment. Their duties often include household chores, like laundry. If so, caregivers can take steps to avoid certain risks with chemo patients’ laundry.

Patients may have chemotherapy for mesothelioma as part of their treatment plans. This type of treatment uses drugs to kill cancer cells. Examples of these drugs include Alimta® (pemetrexed) and cisplatin. As these drugs break down, they may transfer to patients’ clothes and end up in the laundry. Caregivers who unknowingly handle these leftover drugs may experience skin irritation.

Why Is Laundry Safety Important When Helping Chemo Patients?

Systemic chemotherapy travels through the bloodstream before being broken down. Generally, these drugs stay in a patient’s system for up to 72 hours.

As the body filters the drugs out, they may show up in different bodily fluids and waste. The drugs may be in saliva, stools, sweat, urine and vomit. If any of these waste materials get on any bedding, clothes or towels, the drugs may, too.

As part of their duties, caregivers may wash this laundry for patients. If the caregiver touches any fluids containing the drugs, they may experience irritation or rash. Luckily, simple precautions can help caregivers handle chemo patients’ laundry safely.

Can I Use a Laundry Service for a Chemo Patient?

A laundry service or dry cleaner can be incredibly convenient. But not all will handle laundry from a chemo patient because of the potential risks. It’s important to verify the service will take laundry from cancer patients.

If you currently use a laundry service, contact them to see if they handle items used by chemo patients. You may need to find a specialized service that launders for patients undergoing chemotherapy.

Precautions to Safely Handle Soiled Laundry

Caregivers may have many priorities when caring for chemotherapy patients. Finding time to do laundry may be low on the list. The stress of the cancer diagnosis, along with treatment and side effects, adds up. Regular household chores only add to the weight.

Doing laundry for someone receiving chemo can be tricky, but caregivers can follow a few easy precautions to stay safe.

1. Steps for Chemo Patient Laundry

Before starting any laundry, caregivers should understand simple steps to handle contaminated laundry safely. Medical professionals recommend:

  1. Wear nitrile gloves: Medical professionals suggest caregivers wear nitrile gloves when handling soiled laundry. Some experts recommend wearing two pairs of gloves. The gloves protect bare skin from touching the chemicals. Nitrile also keeps latex away from potentially sensitive people.
  2. Use the washing machine: Caregivers should only use a washing machine for soiled laundry. Never wash it by hand.
  3. Use the longest cycle: Wash all clothes, bedding and towels a chemo patient uses on the longest cycle available. Use the warmest water the fabric recommends.
  4. Wash hands: Caregivers should wash their hands with warm water and soap after handling dirty laundry, even if they wear gloves.
  5. When to call the doctor: Sometimes, touching an item contaminated with bodily fluids happens regardless of how careful the caregiver is. When this happens, they may experience irritation or redness. They should call their doctors if the redness or irritation lasts over an hour.

2. Wash Laundry as Soon as Possible

It is best to wash soiled laundry as soon as possible. Leaving it sitting can allow the chemo drugs to soak into other items. It can also open the possibility of someone else touching it without knowing the risk.

If you cannot wash soiled laundry right away, put it in a large garbage bag or other plastic bag to keep it separate. Throw the bag away after you can get the dirty items into the washer.

3. Wash the Chemo Patient’s Laundry by Itself

Caregivers should wash laundry soiled by urine, feces or vomit separately. It keeps the other laundry from getting residual drugs on them. Washing them separately can help reduce the risk of exposing others.

Linens and clothes that are not visibly soiled can be washed with other clothes as usual.

4. Wash the Chemo Patient’s Laundry Twice

Caregivers should wash any soiled laundry twice. Research shows washing loads of laundry used by chemo patients twice effectively removes leftover chemicals.

Caregivers also should talk to the patients’ care teams about how to safely handle laundry. The team may suggest certain detergents and instructions.

By following these tips, caregivers can take precautions while still caring for patients.