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Soft Surfaces

Hard surfaces are only half the battle.

Learn about the role of soft surfaces in HAI transmission, and how you can eliminate bacteria from fabrics in your facility.

Soft Surface Quick Facts


Just like hard, nonporous surfaces, bacteria, viruses, and fungi can all thrive on soft surfaces for extended periods of time and contribute to the transmission of microrganisms. If left unaddressed, contaminated soft surfaces can pose a risk of infection and can undermine any hard surface disinfection routines your facility may have. Studies have demonstrated that:


  • 92% of privacy curtains have been found contaminated 1 week after laundering1
  • Bacteria can survive on polyester for 90 days2
  • 37% of facilities only launder privacy curtains when visibly soiled3
  • Bacteria can be transferred to and from fabric cushions to people4
  • More than 50% of beds & mattresses have been found to be contaminated with dangerous bacteria5

Get Poster: Hard Facts on Soft Surfaces (PDF)

1Ohl et al Hospital privacy curtains are frequently and rapidly contaminated with potentially pathogenic bacteria; Am J of Inf Control : on line publication; 2012. 2Neely AN, Maley MP, “Survival of enterococci and staphylococci on hospital fabrics and plastic.” J Clin Microbiol 2000; 38:724-726. 3Dianne L. DeAngelis, Rashida Khakoo, Dianne L. DeAngelis, “Hospital Privacy Curtains: Cleaning and Changing Policies - Are We Doing Enough?” Presentation Number 2-252, Poster Abstracts / American Journal of Infection Control 41 (2013) S25-S145. 4Alice N. Neely, “Persistence of microorganisms on common hospital surfaces” Infection Control Resource, Vol. 4, No. 4. Strategies to control their dissemination. 51.Sexton T, Clarke P, O’Neill E, Dillane T and Humphreys H. Environmental reservoirs of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus in isolation rooms: correlation with patient isolates and implications for hospital hygiene. Journal of Hospital Infection 2006;62:187-94.

Soft Surface Strategies to Prevent HAIs


Because microorganisms can live on soft surfaces, adding a routine to address soft surfaces as part of your facility’s regular infection prevention practices may help reduce the transmission of HAIs. Steps you can take include:

  1. Routine laundering of privacy curtains, linens, employee uniforms and other soft surfaces in your facility
  2. Use of an EPA-registered product to kill bacteria on soft surfaces between laundering and on soft surfaces that are unable to be laundered
  3. Hand hygiene practices by healthcare professionals during and between patient care

Soft Surface High Touch Areas


To ensure that your staff is preventing the spread of pathogens via soft surfaces, make sure your environmental cleaning practices address soft surfaces in these areas:

Patient and Exam Rooms

Help prevent the spread of pathogens by regularly decontaminating fabrics and upholstered furniture that can harbor dangerous pathogens, including:

  • Privacy curtains
  • In-room couches
  • Bedside chairs
  • Cots
  • Drapes
  • Linens

Waiting and Reception Areas

As the first touchpoint for patients and families when they enter your facility, these areas are heavily trafficked and can contribute to cross-contamination if not properly cleaned. These items should be decontaminated regularly:

  • Chairs
  • Couches
  • Cushions
  • Rugs
  • Throw pillows

Work Stations

Nursing stations, reception desks and office spaces are all places where healthcare workers convene between patient care. Soft surfaces in these areas can become contaminated with dangerous pathogens that clinicians may inadvertently carry from one patient room to another. To prevent the spread of pathogens via soft surfaces, decontaminate these items regularly:

  • Desk chairs
  • Badge lanyards
  • Lab coats
  • Soft computer equipment (e.g., mouse pads)

Soft Surface Education and Studies


Learn about soft surfaces in the healthcare environment, and the role they can play in HAI transmission.

Read Technical Bulletin: The Role of Soft Surfaces in HAI Transmission (PDF)

Get Poster: Hard Facts on Soft Surfaces (PDF)

Soft Surface Studies:

Hospital privacy curtains are frequently and rapidly contaminated with potentially pathogenic bacteria
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Contamination of hospital curtains with healthcare-associated pathogens
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Hospital Privacy Curtains: Cleaning and Changing Policies - Are We Doing Enough?
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Comparing the transmission potential of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and multidrug-resistant Acinetobacter baumannii among inpatients using target environmental monitoring
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Evaluation of Bacterial Contamination of Cubical Curtains in Contact Precaution ICU and non-ICU Rooms
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Survival of Enterococci and Staphylococci on Hospital Fabrics and Plastic
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A survey of gram-negative bacteria survival on hospital fabrics and plastics
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Fighting nosocomial infections with biocidal non-intrusive hard and soft surfaces
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Nursing and physician attire as possible source of nosocomial infetions
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Carbapenem-resistant Acinetobacter and role of curtains in an outbreak in intensive care units
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Persistence of microorganisms on common hospital surfaces
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Persistent contamination of fabric-covered furniture by vancomycin-resistant enterococci: implications for upholstery selection in hospitals
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The infection risks associated with clothing and household linens in home and everyday life settings, and the role of laundry
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