Impact of Bleach on Life Safety Rope and Web

By CMC

CMC has released new guidance on cleaning and decontaminating life safety equipment using water and detergent. CMC does not recommend the use of chlorine bleach to disinfect life safety rope and webbing. There are other hospital grade solutions which are more effective at disinfecting soft goods and less prone to causing damage. See the information below on how repeated exposure to bleach degrades the strength of soft goods.

At the 2022 International Technical Rescue Symposium, a study conducted by the CMC School evaluated the effect of a variety of contaminants on kernmantle rescue rope. We found that chlorine bleach, when used in 10% solution, caused a 2% strength loss. For occasional decontamination, this is probably insignificant, however, repeated use may cause a more significant loss of performance in the rope. Additionally, use of stronger solutions demonstrated a 14% strength loss when the samples were exposed to a 100% concentration. In both cases, the samples were immersed for 10 minutes, rinsed for 10 minutes and then tested 14 days later.

At the 2013 International Technical Rescue Symposium, John McKently, Director of the CMC Rescue School, presented results of testing a variety of contaminants on life safety rope. Included in this year’s series of tests was a 10% bleach solution on polyester sheath/polyester core rope. The rope was left in the solution until dry, three times over a 40 day period, simulating a worst-case, where the rope was not thoroughly rinsed as part of the decontamination process. The test results showed a 7% loss of strength.

At the 2014 International Technical Rescue Symposium, Cedric Smith, CMC Engineering Technician, presented results of a variety of testing of contaminants on webbing. Included in his testing was a 10% bleach solution on nylon webbing. The web was soaked 10 minutes, then rinsed twice by hand in clean water; each sample was cycled 5 times with a minimum of 3 days drying time in between. The test resulted in an 8% strength loss.

CMC emphasizes the requirement to thoroughly rinse life safety rope of any fiber type as the final step in decontaminating the rope. Use caution when decontaminating rope or webbing multiple times. Know the difference between washing and disinfecting – strong consideration should be given to replacement of contaminated rope.

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