How Hospitals Learned to Keep Things Clean

How Hospitals Learned to Keep Things Clean

A Sanitized hospital and a team of nurses
  • Ignaz Semmelweis introduced handwashing in 1847, which helped reduce hospital infection rates.
  • Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch’s discoveries in the 1860s solidified the idea that germs cause disease.
  • Joseph Lister required staff to wash their hands with an antiseptic before caring for patients.
  • Vaccines were developed in the late 18th century, which helped to reduce hospital outbreaks by preventing people from contracting diseases in the first place.
  • Modern sterilization techniques such as UV rays, robotics, ozone generators, and automatic disinfection systems have improved hospital sanitation even further.

Most people take sanitation for granted. Places that people frequently visit—restaurants, stores, hospitals—will be clean and free of harmful bacteria. But it wasn’t always this way. In fact, it was only in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that hospitals began implementing policies and procedures to ensure their facilities were clean.

Handwashing in Hospitals

Before then, hospitals were hotbeds of disease. Patients with contagious illnesses were often housed alongside those with non-contagious conditions, and there was little to no attempt to separate the two groups. This led to rampant outbreaks of cholera, typhoid fever, and tuberculosis.

It wasn’t until Hungarian physician Ignaz Semmelweis introduced the concept of handwashing in 1847 that things began to change. Semmelweis observed that physicians who washed their hands before delivering babies had a much lower infection rate than those who did not. He theorized that doctors spread disease from one patient to another by not washing their hands between patients.

Semmelweis’s theory was met with skepticism by the medical community, but his work laid the foundation for future advances in hospital sanitation. Several other vital discoveries helped make hospitals cleaner and safer in the following years.

The Discovery of Germ Theory

In the 1860s, a series of discoveries by French chemist Louis Pasteur and German physician Robert Koch helped to solidify the idea that germs cause disease. Before this, most people believed diseases were caused by bad air or other environmental factors. But Pasteur’s work on bacteria and Koch’s discovery of the bacteria that causes anthrax showed that germs could cause disease.

These discoveries led to a greater understanding of how diseases spread in hospitals. For example, it was now clear that patients with contagious diseases could spread those diseases to other patients through contact with contaminated surfaces or by coming into contact with healthcare workers who had not properly washed their hands after caring for different patients.

The Importance of Handwashing

With the discovery of germ theory came a renewed focus on handwashing to prevent the spread of disease. In 1875, British doctor Joseph Lister became one of the first physicians to require his staff to wash their hands with an antiseptic solution before caring for patients. Lister also began using antiseptic solutions during surgery to reduce post-operative infections. Lister’s work helped pave the way for modern sterile surgical techniques.

A vaccine ready to be used

The Development of Vaccines

Another breakthrough in hospital sanitation came in the form of vaccines. The first vaccine was developed by Edward Jenner in 1796 and used to protect against smallpox. Since then, vaccines have been developed for various diseases, including polio, measles, mumps, rubella, and chickenpox. Vaccines help reduce hospital outbreaks by preventing patients from contracting infections in the first place.

Hospital Sanitation Today

Thanks to these and other advances, hospital sanitation has come a long way since Ignaz Semmelweis first introduced handwashing in 1847. However, there is still more work to be done. Hospitals today face new challenges, such as antibiotic-resistant superbugs and virulent strains of influenza. Here are four new modern ways people are sterilizing and sanitizing hospitals today:

UV Rays

One of the most effective ways to sterilize a hospital is to use ultraviolet (UV) rays. UV technologies companies utilize this light to kill viruses and bacteria on surfaces. UV light has been used in hospitals for decades, but recent technological advances have made it even more effective. UV light can penetrate deep into characters and kill germs without the need for harsh chemicals or dangerous residues.

Robot at work


Robots are being used in hospitals to automating the cleaning process. These robots function similarly to floor-cleaning machines but can maneuver around obstacles and reach tight spaces more effectively than their human counterparts. Additionally, some of these robots have sensors that detect dirt and germs on surfaces so they can be more accurately targeted for cleaning.

Ozone Generators

Ozone generators are machines that produce ozone gas, which is a powerful disinfectant. Ozone is highly effective at killing bacteria, viruses, and fungi, making it an ideal tool for hospital sanitation.

Automatic Disinfection Systems

Automatic disinfection systems automatically use sensors and spray nozzles to apply disinfectant to surfaces. This helps ensure that every character in a hospital is thoroughly disinfected and sanitized regularly.

Overall, advances in sanitation have greatly improved the safety and cleanliness of hospitals over time. From handwashing to UV rays, there are now many ways hospitals can keep their facilities safe for patients and staff. With continued advances in sanitation, hospitals can continue to provide a safe place for patients to receive the care they need.

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