Reducing Lint on Reusable OR Towels


preparing operating room pic
Photo: Bruce Beggs

Eric Frederick |

ROANOKE, Va. — Providing an OR towel that has little lint or is lint-free is a universal challenge for all laundry facilities that supply reusable OR towels to a healthcare facility. You can take some key steps to ensure that the product coming out of processing has a minimum amount of lint.

The first is to make sure that you purchase a high-quality reusable OR towel. The quality of the weave and the fiber used in product construction has a direct bearing on the amount of lint that will be generated in processing. As a general rule, the lower the cost of the OR towel, the greater the amount of lint.

Recently, several linen companies have experienced problems with previously reliable sources, as poor-quality cotton has made its way into the production pipeline. Carefully research your options and insist on test-washing any OR towels before committing your business to a particular vendor. This is one item for which you are better off committing all your business to one vendor based on its ability to consistently provide a high-quality product.

Constant vigilance for potential product problems has become a necessary part of laundry management. Product consistency will make, not break, your reputation with your customers.

Next, make sure that reusable OR towels are processed separately from disposable (single-use) towels. Most disposable OR towels are blue in color and of a lower quality than reusable OR towels. In addition, disposable OR towels are sterilized by irradiation, which has a detrimental effect on the cotton fiber.

Because of these two factors, the amount of lint generated by disposable OR towels when washed in the laundry will be much higher than that generated by reusable OR towels. It is therefore recommended that, during the soil-sort process, these towels be sorted into a separate batch. Disposable OR towels can easily be sold to a number of industries once they are properly cleaned.

You must take care during soil sorting to ensure that no foreign objects are placed in the load with the reusable OR towels. It is normal to find pieces of gauze in the bags containing reusable OR towels. These pieces will disintegrate into white pieces of lint during processing. Removing these foreign bodies will eliminate the problem.

I recommend sorting the OR towels twice to make sure that all foreign items are removed. During the initial high-speed sort, some items normally get past the sorters who are trying hard to make production numbers. Sending the OR towels past them a second time will help them catch what they missed the first time around.

I recommend adding one or two green poly-cotton sheets to each wash load of green OR towels. Ray Pierson, one of my supervisors who used to work for National Linen, made this recommendation based on his experience there. I had my doubts at first, but decided to give it a try.

We always fully dry our OR towels before inspecting them by hand and folding them. The process of ironing a damp OR towel will cause fibers to stretch and create thermal shock, which will result in additional linting next time. We have found that the green sheets act like lint magnets when washed and dried with a load of OR towels, greatly reducing if not eliminating the lint.

We inspect each OR towel to ensure the quality of the products that are delivered to our customers. This process greatly reduces inventory management issues. If the OR towels are not inspected, then facilities will order more than they really need. Through inspection, the orders accurately reflect what they really need. Having the responsibility for inspecting OR towels done by the surgical pack room simplifies the allocation between OR packs and loose towels.

The reusable surgical linen business requires a higher quality standard than general hospital linen but, if priced appropriately, can be a great addition to your volume and your bottom line.

About the author

Eric Frederick

Eric Frederick served 44 years in laundry management before retiring and remains active in the industry as a laundry operations consultant. You can contact him by e-mail at or by phone at 540-520-6288.


washing disposable towels


Can clean disposable towels be resterilized without washing them first ? How about non- disposable? I we open towels and the case gets canceled, the team wants to re-sterilze them without running them through the laundry. I was always taught this is a no no. Comments?

reusable towels

Can disposable towels be resterilized without washing first, assuming they are clean and unused? How about non disposable?
If I open sterile towels and then the case gets canceled, the team want to resterlize the towels without washing them first. I was always taught that was a no no. Comments?


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