OSHA Clarifies Proper Use of Red Bags for Linen
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The Problem with Red Bags

Hospital's err on the side of caution and train staff to dispose of contaminated linen as Red Bag waste.

  • Assuming the linen cannot be cleaned, staff dispose of it as Red Bag waste
  • Attempting to "alert" the laundry that the linen is heavily contaminated hospital personnel place linen in Red Bags
  • Lack of understanding regarding the process utilized by professional laundry operators
  • Pounds of linen are unnecessarily discarded as waste in over 5,724 US hospitals daily
  • Hospitals pay between 18 - 33 cents per pound to dispose of Red Bag waste...unnecessarily!
  • The problem is compounded by the cost of replacing the discarded linen

The Solution

The greater majority of health care laundry processors utilize Universal Precautions (UP) for all textiles entering the laundry processing facility.  When this is the case, then it is not necessary to place blood saturated linen in Red Bags; in fact the Red Bag communicates to laundry personnel that the bag contains bio-hazardous waste and has accidentally been sent to the laundry.  In this case...

  • All linen from the hospital/clinic is placed in a bag color coded and/or labeled to indicate contents are contaminated linen
  • Everyone at the healthcare facility, transporting the linen, and at the laundry understand the appropriate protective apparel and handling requirements in order to protect the employee  
  • Appropriate cleaning measures are taken in order to process the textiles, providing a hygienically clean product.

The Laundry Exception

If the laundry distinguishes "soiled" laundry (that which is simply dirty) from "contaminated" laundry (that which has been exposed to blood or other potentially infectious material).  Only then does OSHA require the "contaminated" laundry to be identified as different from the "soiled" laundry.
  • This rarely occurs in a healthcare laundry processing facility; typically this process is used by a laundry that only washes minimal healthcare textiles.
  • In this situation, a Red Bag is not required (it is an option), as the hospital/clinic may substitute the red/orange bio-hazard label on the textile bag to indicate that Bloodborne Pathogen Requirements are necessary for handling this bag.


 Examples of  Linen Bag Use
  Laundry Uses UP for ALL Textiles  Laundry uses UP only for contaminated Linen  
 Alternative labeling or color-coding is sufficient if all employees recognize UP are required The bio-hazard label indicates contaminated linen contents (precautions required) for this bag of textiles.


The Resources

OSHA Letter of Interpretation

ALM Fact Sheet summarizing key points

ALM and ARTA Red Bag Press Release and key issues