A Blood Stain Mess: A Case Study

Paul was a doctor working in a big city hospital. Normally, he would change into scrubs before beginning a procedure and so protect his own clothes from staining by blood and other body fluids.

However, an obstetrics emergency late one night meant that Paul had no time to don his scrubs before delivering the baby and when he finally sat down to write his notes after the successful procedure, he discovered that his trousers were covered in blood stains. Hurrying home, he discovered that his wife was out but decided to take care of the stains himself and so threw the trousers into the washing machine, then on into the dryer. He was confident that with the thorough washing the trousers had received, they would be as good as new when they were dry.

Imagine his horror when he came home that evening to find his wife confronting him with the trousers where not only had the stains not been removed but they seemed to have gotten deeper and darker!

“What did you do?” demanded his wife. “Are these blood stains?”

“Yeah, I got them yesterday in the hospital. But I put them straight into the wash!” Paul protested.

“In the wash?” said his wife. “Oh no! What cycle did you use?”

“The hottest,” said Paul. “I thought you always need hot water to get a more thorough wash, don’t you? And since this was a tough stain, I figured -“

“No, you idiot! Blood is a protein and hot water sets protein stains – you’ll probably never get them out now! And you put them in the dryer too, didn’t you? That’s made it even worse – more heat to set the stain!”

Paul had done what a lot of people do and committed some of the most common mistakes with regards to blood stains, causing them to set permanently when they could have probably been easily removed if treated correctly from the start:

  • First, absorb as much blood as possible from the stain using paper towels or even a cotton cloth. Dab or blot gently – don’t rub vigorously as this might spread the stain.
  • Next, rinse the stain under running COLD water, if the stain is in a fabric that is washable. Otherwise, you will have to continue using the cloth or paper towels to dab some cold water on the stain and sponge it off again, to rinse it.
  • Once you have flushed as much of the stain away as possible with water, it is a good idea to pre-treat the stain with hydrogen peroxide (if it is white) or a biological enzymatic detergent (if it is coloured). Mix equal parts cold water and either solution and then soak the garment in this mixture before washing in the washing machine. Note, however, that these treatments are not suitable for natural protein fabrics, such as wool and silk.
  • If the tag on the garment states that it needs to be dry-cleaned, then don’t waste time with a pre-treatment – just take the garment to a dry-cleaners as soon as possible.
  • Even in the washing machine, make sure that you use a cold water cycle and a detergent that uses enzymes, which are proteins designed to break down substances like sweat, blood, vomit, urine, etc. (remember not to use enzymatic detergents on wool and silk!)
  • Finally, air dry the garment in a cool, shaded area – never put it in a dryer as any stain that is remaining will set permanently from the heat of the dryer.
  • If a stain persists, you may need to repeat the steps again a few times.

Paul learnt his lesson and although he lost a favourite pair of trousers, he never forgot the essential steps for removing a blood stain so that he did not inadvertently destroy any more clothes in the future.

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