Lint-resistant towels help improve safety for newborns and surgical patients

April 20, 2018

Softer, more absorbent towels are now being used province-wide to clean newborns shortly after birth by cesarean section.

Have you ever heard of a huck towel? Unless you work in surgical care, the answer is probably no.

Huck towels come in handy for all sorts of things. Surgeons use them to dry their hands. Other staff who work in the operating room use them to line the trays that hold surgical instruments.

Clinicians also use huck towels to clean patients before, during, and after surgery. In fact, these towels are often used to clean newborn babies shortly after delivery.

Until recently, a certain kind of huck towel was used in Saskatchewan health-care facilities. These towels were prone to excessive linting after being laundered because they were made of a specific cotton blend.

Employees who process surgical linens then had to spend a lot of time manually removing lint from the huck towels and re-sterilizing them so they could be used in surgical units.

“The reason they had to do that is that no amount of lint is safe to have in a sterile operating environment,” said Jennifer Fetch, who works for 3sHealth as provincial linen services leader for southern Saskatchewan.

The move to a new and better product

In February 2018, the health system transitioned to a better kind of huck towel – one that is softer, more absorbent, and less prone to develop lint. Almost every care provider who evaluated the product rated it very favourably.

“The new towels are soft, and much less abrasive than the old ones,” said one evaluator.

“These towels are softer to use on babies following a caesarean section,” said another.

One tester said, “They’re better for patients’ skin and more absorbent.”

Another said, “[They] work well, don’t lint, and they stay in place during procedures.”

Yet another evaluator said, “[The new towels are] better for wiping the baby, cleaning the sterile area, and providing cover over an incision.”

The positive comments went on and on.

A total of 28 clinicians trialed the new huck towel, and 26 of them enthusiastically endorsed it.

The new towels don’t just meet various clinical needs; they are also more comfortable for patients. And because the towels don’t degrade like the old ones, there is less chance for lint to show up in the operating room. Less lint in any surgical area is better for patients.

How it came about

Users started noticing the linting problem on the old huck towels last year. They brought forward their concerns to the provincial linen services team at 3sHealth. At about the same time, 3sHealth was discovering the same problem through its regular monthly audits.

In July 2017, the province’s Surgical Linen Advisory Committee and 3sHealth took steps to address the problem.

“Initially we brought in a microfiber towel,” explained Jim Crawford, director of provincial linen services. “We, together with the vendor, believed this would solve the problem. We worked with our Surgical Linen Advisory Committee to test the microfiber towel. Through that process, users told us the microfiber towel was not very absorbent. As a result, it didn’t meet their clinical needs.”

So the teams tried again.

In the fall of 2017, K-Bro went back to a cotton huck towel, but one with a different cotton blend. 3sHealth approached every surgical facility in the province to see who wanted to try the newer option, and 17 facilities volunteered to take part. The trial began in January 2018.

“We had such wonderful participation throughout the process. And our evaluators were particularly engaged,” said Crawford. “As well, everyone who evaluated the product actually works in surgery. They were the right people to tell us whether or not we should go any further with it.”

By the end of February, there was near universal consensus amongst the group of evaluators. They agreed that as a health system, we ought to procure the newer, softer huck towel for the benefit of patients and providers.

“By working together, we managed to bring in a significant quality improvement, all at no extra cost,” said Crawford. “So it’s good news all around for patients, providers, and the entire health system.”


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