7 Reasons Why Hospitals Are Kept Cold (Doctor Explains)

Updated on: December 3, 2023
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Written By Dr Ollie

Every article is fact-checked by a medical professional. However, inaccuracies may still persist.

Have you ever been to hospital, either as a patient, visitor, or member of staff and wondered why it was so cold?

Hospitals are kept cold for a variety of purposes, from minimising the risk of bacterial growth on surfaces to preserving the efficacy of medical equipment. By maintaining a cool ambient temperature, hospitals can also actually be a more pleasant and productive working environment for staff.

This article aims to uncover seven key reasons as to why hospitals are often kept cold, providing a better understanding of the factors behind this regulated environment.

Infection Control

Infection control is a crucial aspect of healthcare in hospitals, as it aims to minimise the spread of diseases and enhance patient safety.

Maintaining cold temperatures in hospital environments aids in achieving this goal.

Cold temperatures inhibit the growth and survival of bacteria and viruses, effectively reducing the risk of infections.

By keeping hospitals cold, it becomes more challenging for these pathogens to thrive and propagate.

This fact helps protect not only the patients but also the hospital staff, visitors, and the community at large.

A locum doctor putting on PPE before going onto a ward
A doctor donning PPE on a ward

In addition to temperature control, standard infection control precautions are employed in all care settings.

These include measures such as hand-washing, the use of personal protective equipment, and proper sanitisation of surfaces and equipment.

When combined with a cold environment, these practices become even more effective at maintaining a safe and sterile healthcare setting.

Energy Efficiency

Hospitals are known for their high energy consumption due to the constant demand for lighting, heating, air conditioning, security systems, monitoring, elevators, cleaning, and sterilisation.

As a result, maintaining energy efficiency is of paramount importance for healthcare facilities.

One of the reasons hospitals are kept cold is to help improve energy efficiency and reduce their environmental impact.

By keeping the temperature low, hospitals can conserve energy that would be spent on heating extensive rooms, wards and corridors.

This enables the facilities to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to a greener and more sustainable environment.

Why Hospitals Are Kept Cold Pixel Infographic

According to a report published in September 2019, hospitals and laboratories were found to contribute 4.4 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Investments have been made in the Public Sector Decarbonisation Scheme, aiming to reduce emissions, save costs, and improve patients’ and communities’ health and wellbeing.

Comfort For Staff

Hospitals are kept at cooler temperatures not only for the benefit of patients but also for the comfort of the staff.

Medical professionals, including doctors and nurses, spend long hours on their feet, wearing scrubs and often layers of protective clothing.

By maintaining a cooler environment, they can remain comfortable and focused during their shifts.

Staff members need to stay physically and mentally sharp to perform their jobs, and a comfortable temperature plays an important role in achieving that.

Lastly, it can also be argued that a cold environment is conducive to alertness and concentration.

When hospital staff work in a well-regulated temperature, they can more effectively focus on providing the best possible care for their patients without being distracted by discomfort.

This is particularly important during critical procedures like surgeries and medical emergencies when every second counts.

Preserving Medical Equipment

Another key reason for maintaining a cold environment in hospitals is the preservation of medical equipment.

Many critical medical devices require stable and cool temperatures to function optimally.

This ensures accurate readings and results in various diagnostic procedures, laboratory tests, and even during surgeries.

For example, some medical imaging devices, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines, require precise temperature regulation to maintain their effectiveness.

Proper functioning of such equipment is essential for accurate diagnosis and treatment of patients.

In addition, maintaining the equipment in a cool environment can help extend its life and reduce degradation.

Another important consideration is the storage of various biological samples and medications.

A tray of test tubes in a laboratory
Biological samples in a hospital laboratory

Some of these, such as vaccines, blood samples, and tissue cultures, are highly sensitive to temperature fluctuations.

Exposing them to warmer environments may lead to undesirable effects, such as contamination or reduced potency.

By keeping the hospital’s ambient temperature cool, the risk of compromising these vital medical supplies is minimised.

For Patient Comfort

If patients feel at ease when receiving medical care, as a result of a comfortable environment, it can have a real positive impact on both their mental and physical well-being.

When patients are relaxed, they exhibit reduced stress levels, which can support the healing process and improve overall health outcomes.

Cold temperatures in hospitals can help regulate body temperature, particularly for patients with fever or infections.

Moreover, cooler temperatures can help reduce perspiration and keep the patients and any wounds clean, thus minimising the risk of further infections.

Better Sleep For Patients

It has been well-documented that sleep disturbance in hospitals can have negative consequences for patient outcomes.

A cooler environment plays a significant role in ensuring patients can achieve better sleep.

Sleep is essential for the body’s healing process, and a cold environment can help patients fall asleep faster and maintain a better quality of sleep throughout the night.

Cooler temperatures have been shown to reduce the time it takes to fall asleep and increase the time spent in the restorative stages of sleep.

This is particularly useful in a hospital setting where patients need optimal sleep to support their recovery.

Studies have shown that the optimal temperature for sleep is between 15.6Β°C and 20.0Β°C, which is relatively cooler than typical room temperatures.

Therefore, maintaining a colder temperature in hospitals is in line with promoting better sleep conditions for patients.

Controlling Condensation

One of the reasons that hospitals are kept cold, which isn’t often brought up, is to control condensation.

In warmer environments, condensation is more likely to occur on various surfaces, such as medical equipment and walls.

This presents a problem as the growth of bacteria and viruses can thrive in moist conditions.

As a result, the likelihood of these microorganisms spreading from one surface to another and from one person to another increases significantly.

By maintaining cooler temperatures within the premises, hospitals can successfully reduce condensation and maintain a cleaner environment, thus minimising the risk of cross-contamination.

This is particularly essential in areas where sensitive equipment is used, such as laboratories and operating theatres.

Ensuring that these areas remain free from excess moisture is critical in maintaining accurate and reliable results.

Furthermore, controlling condensation is not only crucial for the functioning of medical equipment but also for the structural integrity of the building.

Hospitals are designed to manage the potential hazards of excess moisture and mould, which can lead to costly repairs and compromise the overall safety of the building.

Final Thoughts

Although I’ve worked in hospitals for quite a few years now, I’d never put much thought as to why they’re generally colder than a normal office.

It was only when I was researching this article that I learnt about the various very good reasons that the thermostat is set lower.

Unravelling the reasons behind why hospitals are kept cold not only helps to provide insight into the inner workings of a hospital but may also help to ease any concerns patients and visitors may have about the seemingly chilly conditions.

About the author
After studying medicine at the University of Leicester, Dr Ollie now works as a junior doctor in London. His interests include medical education and expedition medicine, as well as having a strong belief in the importance of widening access to medicine.