Xavier researchers reveal hospitals are using unapproved chemicals to clean patients' beds

The research is being presented to a professional association for infection control and epidemiology | June 4, 2012

Research by Xavier’s Health Services Administration graduate program reveals that current practices for sanitizing hospital beds involve the use of chemicals that are not approved by the EPA for use on mattresses. The study also finds that most hospitals do not follow recommendations for appropriate use of these chemicals.

Dr. Edmond Hooker, associate professor in Health Services Administration and lead researcher on the project, said infections picked up by patients in hospitals are killing hundreds of people every day in the United States.

“Using unapproved chemicals, failing to clean beds prior to disinfection, and failing to rinse off these dangerous chemicals is just unacceptable,” he said. “Previous research by Xavier University has demonstrated that hospitals are not getting beds clean, and this research may give a clue as to why.”

The research, performed by Hooker and graduate student Kristen Jones, was presented on Monday, June 4, at the annual meeting of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology in San Antonio, Texas. Among the findings:

• 84 percent of hospitals use quaternary ammonia compounds to clean hospital beds. These chemicals have been tested on hard surfaces only and do not have EPA approval for use on soft surfaces such as hospital mattresses.

• Only 23 percent of these hospitals cleaned the mattress surface prior to using the disinfectant, as is recommended by both the bed and chemical manufacturers.

• Only 6 percent of these hospitals rinsed the chemical disinfectant away after disinfection, as recommended by the bed manufacturers, since patients could be exposed to residual disinfectant.

According to their research, the top 113 hospitals for 2011-2012, as ranked by US News & World Report, were asked about their cleaning procedures for hospital beds and mattresses. Of these, 69 or 61 percent agreed to participate in the survey. They were asked questions about what chemicals they use to clean their beds and mattresses, how they mix or dilute the chemical, how long it’s on the bed or if the mattress is left to dry, do they use anything else such as soap and water, and is the cleaner rinsed off the bed?

The hospitals that participated reported using quaternary ammonia compounds, bleach compounds, phenolic cleaners and hydrogen peroxide. Only two hospitals were using disinfectants with a pH balance recommended by the bed and fabric manufacturers. Only 16 or 23 percent of the hospitals reported cleaning the mattress prior to disinfection, and only six hospitals or 9 percent reported rinsing off the disinfectant after use.