Durability, Protection & Comfort: The requirements of a healthcare worker’s uniform

By Charles Wilson, UK Sales Manager at Carrington Textiles

Pinpointing the needs and creating innovative solutions for the healthcare industry

On any given day, a healthcare professional could find themselves taking blood samples, assisting with dressing a wound and helping to move patients around the ward. All these duties could lead to the transfer of harmful bacteria from the patient onto the worker’s clothes, which can ultimately contribute towards the spread of diseases.

Within an environment such as a hospital or nursing home, it’s crucial for uniforms to achieve an optimum ‘kill time’ (the time it takes for an infection to die once it meets the surface of a fabric). However, this is not the only factor at play.

Here are three challenges manufacturers must consider when providing healthcare professionals with a garment that protects against infection:

A fabric that lasts

There was a time when uniforms would be collected at the end of each shift to be industrially-laundered at the necessary temperature on-site. However, budget pressures have meant that it now comes down to the individual staff member to ensure their uniform (excluding surgical scrubs) is washed and cared for between shifts.

The inherent danger with this is that there is no strict policing on when, or where, this uniform can be worn. There’s nothing to stop a healthcare worker staying in their uniform while jumping on a bus or nipping to the local supermarket in their lunchbreak. This means the spread of secondary infections is no longer limited to within four walls and that uniforms are being worn for longer in environments they aren’t necessarily built for.

The Department of Health’s guidelines for the domestic laundering of uniforms advises that a minimum temperature of 60 degrees in a wash cycle of 10 mins is required to remove almost all micro-organisms on the fabric’s surface. It also recommends that uniforms are stored (pre-wash) and washed separately to other items.

But it’s difficult to see how nurses can constantly achieve this when you consider the realities of modern life. There aren’t always enough hours in the day to turnaround a separate wash if you are on call or have two back-to-back shifts, for example.

Regardless, prolonged usage and regular washing in high temperatures, means that a durable fabric is required if it is to retain its protective qualities shift after shift.

A fabric that protects

A fabric with antimicrobial properties, such as those seen in Sanitized® Silver, will reduce the risk of a nurse or medical assistant becoming infected by secondary diseases.

Sanitized® technology allows the globally-recognised antibacterial effects of silver to be applied to fabrics through various methods, including being embedded into yarns or coated over a fabric’s surface.

Both methods inhibit bacteria growth and contribute towards enhanced protection from potentially harmful viruses.

A fabric that comforts

Consider that the average medical professional can spend between 10 and 12 hours on their feet in any one shift. Added to this, the fact that hospitals tend to keep room temperature at around 25 or 26 degrees to avoid contributing to patient chills or colds, and you can easily see how workers could become uncomfortably warm.

One solution is Sanitized® Silver which acts as a built-in deodorant - ensuring the worker feels fresh all day long. But the physically demanding nature of a job in this industry means workers also require a fabric that is lightweight and breathable, with added moisture control.

Some really exciting innovations are being used in this respect. For example, Xtraflex SL 37.5 is a thermoregulatory fabric that keeps the body’s core temperature at its optimum of 37.5 degrees.

This is achieved through active particles in the fabric, which derive from volcanic sand and coconut shells, using infrared energy emitted from the body to evaporate moisture if the wearer is hot. This property is permanent – it will never wash out, or degrade over time, despite repeated industrial laundering.

At first glance, a uniform may seem peripheral to the job at hand when the care of patients takes first priority. But, take a step back and you will be able to see how a uniform which is comfortable and durable, as well as antibacterial, helps contribute to the care of that patient by playing its part in reducing the risk of infection. Manufacturers and suppliers must collaborate when examining the end user’s environment, pinpointing their needs and creating the innovative solutions, such as Xtraflex SL 37.5, which cater for them.