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    How To Properly Wash And Clean Lab Coats

    How To Properly Wash And Clean Lab Coats

    Since the late 1800s, lab coats have become a symbol of medicine and research. There are no doctors, scientists, researchers, pharmacist or lab technician that do not wear lab coats. Lab coats have made such a big impact on science and development that even in schools and colleges, students and teachers wear lab coats in science classes as well. But why wear lab coats? Why is it necessary to wear lab coats? The answer to that is simple; it's for protection. Wearing lab coats provides skin and clothes protection from accidents and spillage. They also prevent cross contamination, along with creating a quick removing barrier in case of a chemical spill. It is because of this responsibility that lab coats have taken upon themselves, that it is important for you to understand how to clean and wash lab coats properly.

    Basic Rules of Washing Lab Coats

    Lab coats are such an essential in many fields of work including research and medicine. And because of the nature of their work lab coats get soiled quite easily. However, in order to be purposefully effective, lab coats need to be washed, cleaned and maintained with extreme care and precision. The first thing that you need to do is follow the basic pre-wash rules. They are:

    • Lab coats should always be unbuttoned and unzipped before washing. This is to avoid any tangles, stretching and ripping during the wash cycle.
    • You should always make sure that the pockets of your lab coats are empty before washing it either by hand or in the washing machine. This is to make sure there's nothing sharp or damaging left in the pockets that can cause harm to the fabric during the wash.
    • In order to wash lab coats properly, it is important to use the hottest water setting for washing. This is to sanitize the lab coats properly and to kill any germs that might have survived the detergent. However, you should also keep in mind that washing your lab coats regularly with hot water can sometimes be damaging to the fabric.
    • It is important to know that you should NEVER use bleach to wash and whiten your lab coats unless the label says so. This is due to the fact that lab coats usually are made with material that is treated with fire resistant chemicals that can get damaged or weakened by using bleach. If the protection barrier on lab cots gets damaged without you realizing it, the weakened flame resistant lab coats become susceptible to chemicals seeping thorough and causing burns.
    • Lab coats when washed should always be dried according to their label instructions. This is to avoid any accidents, as many coats are made with a mix of material that is susceptible to shrinking and pilling if not dried properly and with ease.
    • One of the most important pieces of instructions that you need to remember is that after you are done with washing your lab coats it is extremely important to run the empty machine with hot water and bleach to kill off any residual contaminants that might have been left behind.

    What is a Chemical Lab Coat?

    Lab coats that have been soiled by chemicals are recorded as chemical lab coats. When washing lab coats, there is a specified amount of spillage under which lab coats can be washed and sanitized. If the spillage is beyond the normal acceptable amount then, the lab coats have to be properly disposed of in accordance with the hazardous waste disposal standards. Salvaging soiled lab coats is also impossible when they have been contaminated with substances that are corrosive, toxic or non-evaporating.

    Washing and Disposing Chemical Lab Coats

    If the lab coats are contaminated with non-toxic, non-corrosive and non-hazardous easily removable chemicals then they can be washed professionally and reused. However, lab coats are deemed non-salvageable if they have been contaminated with:

    • Corrosive agents
    • Strong acids
    • Organometallics like methyl mercury
    • Carcinogens in amounts above 250 milliliters
    • Teratogens in amounts above 250 milliliters
    • Toxic substances with a Lactate Dehydrogenase 50 (LD 50) of 50mg/kg, in amounts above 250 milliliters.

    What is a Biological Lab Coat?

    Lab coats that have been contaminated with biological agents in an enclosed facility, whether it's medical or laboratory, are called biological lab coats. But unlike chemical spills, biological lab coats are not simply divided into salvageable or unsalvageable. Assuming the lab coats are salvageable, then before we can even start the washing process, the stain or contaminant, first needs to be sorted according to its biological safety level and then, through the process of autoclaving we can determine the exact temperatures with which we can treat the lab coats. The biological safety level (BSL) is a series of bio containment precautions that are required to prevent the spread of microorganism and germs outside the enclosed lab facilities. The BSL is a necessary requirement in order to categorize the contaminants on biological lab coats.

    Washing and Disposing Biological Lab Coats

    When washing biological contamination on lab coats, its' BSL is first determined prior to autoclaving. There are two levels of BSL. BSL-1, refers to the lowest of the four biosafety levels. For this level of contamination, autoclaving before washing is recommended but is not always necessary. In BSL-1 the personnel work with microbes and organisms that pose minimal to non-existent threat of infection to adults. This is why researchers do not use special contaminant equipment and the facility does not need to be separated from the surrounding facilities. However, it is always better to check with your institution about the protocol they follow regarding the washing or disposing of BSL-1 lab coats.

    For the washing or disposing of BSL-2 contamination lab coats autoclaving is necessary. This is because BSL-2 includes all laboratories that deal with agents associated with human diseases such as pathogens and infectious organisms. These organisms and pathogens pose a moderate health hazard and include viruses such as encephalitis, HIV and staph infection.

    Sometime however, lab coats can be contaminated in such a manner that salvaging them is not possible. This is particularly true when biologically contaminated lab coats are contaminated with chemical or radioactive substances as well. In this situation autoclaving the lab coats is not possible as it creates possibilities of chemical reactions and explosions.

    What is a Radiation Hazard Lab Coat?

    Certain substance cannot be autoclaved or handled as regular spills. They need special attention even for their disposal. Such is the case with radiation hazard lab coats. If the lab coats contained spills from radioactive material; either your facilities management or the Environment, Health and Safety Department (EHS) should be notified immediately. They will then seal and dispose the lab coat as radioactive waste in a sealed bag.

    What is Autoclaving Lab Coats?

    As we know by now that autoclaving is scientifically determining the highest and lowest temperature with which you can wash lab coats. These temperatures are determined due to the substance that has caused the contamination. There however are certain instructions that need to be followed so you can properly autoclave lab coats. They are:

    • First it is important to check with your lab coat manufacturer if the lab coast are autoclavable.
    • Then you should collect the contaminated lab coats in a lidded container with a biohazard label, and lined with the autoclave bag. That bag should be labeled properly, and should include dates and the contents.
    • Remember, you should ALWAYS autoclave in a clear or opaque bag that is well-labeled. This is to avoid the bag being accidentally getting mistaken for a bag of waste.
    • In the autoclave the decontamination occurs on a solid or pre-vac cycle. For load verification Chemical Integrator (CI) is used.
    • After the autoclave part of the lab coat washing process is complete, lab coats should be laundered by professional services whenever possible.

    Conclusion

    As essential as lab coats are, little is known about how to properly wash and clean them. This information should be basic knowledge for all those that wear lab coats. This knowledge can not only save lives but also save money. By taking proper care of the lab coats we can cut down on the amount that we dispose or ruin over time.