If you like to explore caves, now that WNS has unfortunately reached Alabama, it’s really important to thoroughly clean and decontaminate gear between trips. Luckily, researchers recently discovered a new method of cleaning gear that is much easier, much cheaper, and much safer on gear than using Lysol or bleach. Although the US Fish and Wildlife Service hasn’t officially updated their decontamination protocols, they’ve included this method in their internal training materials, so it’s an accepted way to make sure your gear is clean.
Visit our Gear Decontamination web page for a full description of the different ways you can decon your gear, or this post will go into detail about the hot water method.
Step One: Get the Mud Off!
In layman’s terms, the way to start the decontamination process is to knock off as much excess mud as you can while you’re still at the cave entrance. Go back to your vehicle, get out a big trash bag and put everything in it. Seal it up and take it home.
Step Two: Wash Your Gear
Pre-clean your gear by hosing it down really well, trying to get all of the mud off. Use a soap solution (Pour 7 capfuls or 4 tablespoons of Woolite into one gallon of water) and scrub brush as needed and rinse with the hose. Then run it through the washing machine (use Woolite again and follow the label directions). After your gear is washed clean, soak your gear in one of the following decon recipes.
Step Three: Soak Your Gear in Hot Water
You may now soak your gear in hot water that is 122 degrees F (or 50 degrees C) for at least 15 minutes to decontaminate your gear. Many people have started to experiment with easy ways to soak gear in hot water. You may review a discussion about this technique on CaveChat. Ask a question if you like. Many washing machines will heat up water to more than 122F IF you make sure your hot water heater is set to a high temperature. Here are instructions for using the hot water method.
1. Get a thermometer that is reliable in hot water.
2. Put your gear in your washing machine and fill the machine with hot water.
3. Check the temperature periodically for 15 minutes to make sure the water gets above 122F and STAYS above 122F for at least 15 minutes.
4. If the water isn’t hot enough, adjust your hot water heater and try it again. Most hot water heaters have a small dial on the side where you can adjust the temperature. Consult your water heater user’s manual before changing the settings. In general, make sure to turn off the circuit breaker to the water heater before changing anything. Also look and see if there’s a Reset button you should press. After changing the hot water heater settings, fill up your washing machine again and check the water temperature for at least 15 minutes.
NOTE: You MUST make sure the water will get hot enough and stay hot enough for 15 minutes for this technique to work. If your water doesn’t get hot enough, you’ll have to use another method or try another way to get water hot enough for 15 minutes.
5. When you know that your water temperature is adequate for this method, deconning your gear is easy. If your washing machine doesn’t have a “soak” cycle, you can simply fill up your washing machine with hot water and turn it off. Put all of your gear in the hot water. You can add your vertical gear, clothes, kneepads, rope, helmet, boots, and anything that isn’t a sensitive electronic.
6. Soak your gear for at least 15 minutes. Longer won’t hurt. Check the water temperature periodically and make sure it’s above 122F.
7. When the soak is done, you may remove all of the items and let them dry. You may also just remove the large, bulky items, leave your clothing in the washing machine, and continue the wash cycle like normal.
8. You can reset your hot water heater to a lower temperature when you’re done. Just be sure to turn it back up the next time you need to decon!
Please NOTE: Dishwashers have NOT been tested. Dishwashers do not submerge gear, only get gear hot and wet. Some people say they’re cleaning gear in their dishwashers, but don’t do that until researchers know for sure it works. Besides, dishwashers are for dishes!
If you have tips or tricks to decon your gear with hot water, please let us know! This is still a new method and we’d like to hear how others are doing it.