Having followed through this discussion a couple of thoughts, comments and questions -
We are a department of biological sciences so we might have different spin on lab coats.
First and foremost, what is the purpose of wearing a lab coat? Is it a secondary PPE in the event of accidental chemical contact or is it being used as a primary protection from dirty work? Looking around the department I see coats that appear to be used as both...people get stains, smudges, dirt and grime although they also wear them in the event of a catastrophic spill. One wonders if we are using it for routine dirty work, at least with chemicals, with out immediately decontaminating it, are we following good lab hygiene.
Of course, even if you don't soil it on regular basis, sweat, body oils and the minor splash here and there do build up. We don't have a formal coat washing program (although I was asked recently).
A biomedical researcher (working with human blood) in another department regularly wash their coats. They soak in bleach solution (or autoclave) first then wash in commercial washing machines. Maybe the reasonable solution is to pre-wash, in say a sink or a lab dishwasher, then commercial washers; if the coat is heavily contaminated, then toss them (hazardous waste?).
The other issue is taking them out of the lab. In the two teaching labs (clinical lab sciences and microbiology) where we require lab coats we don't allow the students to take them out of the room. At the end of the semester the coats are autoclaved then either used as loaners or disposed of. When we have visitors, like my high school visit program, where we control what they do we just use disposable aprons.
Departmental Laboratory Supervisor
Michigan Technological University
Rita Kay Calhoun asked:
But where are these lab coats being washed? I wouldn't want to use a machine someone had just used to wash a lab coat. Not all "contaminations" are big enough to be apparent to others, and a student or TA is very likely to opt for washing rather than buying a new coat for "small splashes".. Doesn't the possibility of contamination of public laundry facilities worry you?
This is a good question. If anyone out there has a good solution, please let us all know. Our new campus lab coat program (for research labs) will have a laundry/replacement component, but we have not been able to do so.
In our lab safety workshop, I ask students to consider whether including a lab coat in their general laundry is =91prudent.' Having been prompted to think it through, the =91yuck' reaction rises fast. I then suggest 1) trashing really dirty/damaged coats; 2) pre-rinsing before washing; and 3) a dedicated wash of lab coats pooled among classmates. I personally choose the pre-rinse option for my own coats and lab towels. (I don't like what the rental laundry does to my coats.)
Balancing the question of laundry vs. students without coats (i.e., walking out of lab with contaminated street clothing), I think I'll take some uncertainty about laundry, until we figure this out.
Another question: what contamination might remain in a home or commercial washer, considering the dilution factors? Are there substances likely to appear in Teaching Labs that you'd never put into your washer?
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