One consideration for an infection control policy is when and if to utilize disposable vs. laundered personal protective equipment (PPE), including scrubs and gowns. While economic and environmental costs should be considered, organizations must also determine which type of scrubs are more effective at preventing the spread of infection—the ultimate aim of medical PPE.
What the Science Says: Reasons to Choose Disposable Scrubs over Washable Scrubs
Studies generally indicate that disposable scrubs are at least an equal, and in some cases a more effective option, for infection control compared to reusable apparel. Commonly cited reasons include reliability, effectiveness, cost, and a comfortable fit.
Reusable scrubs can wear down over time due to repeated use and laundering. On the other hand, single-use, disposable scrubs and gowns are made with durable material and are not subject to the effects of reuse, transport, storage, laundering, and decontamination. Disposable gowns supplied by a facility are also less subject to incidental factors such as getting lost or damaged.
Many facilities allow staff members to wash their scrubs at home. But this cost-effective measure lacks regulation and control measures such as temperature and washing solutions, which help reduce the presence of pathogens.
A 2012 study published in the American Journal of Infection Control found that home-laundered scrubs had significantly more bacteria on them compared to hospital-laundered scrubs and disposable scrubs. This suggests that disposable apparel would be the preferable option in cases where laundering either in-hospital or through a vendor is not a practical option.
Quality disposable apparel can also stand up to the many substances that healthcare workers routinely encounter. This means disposable scrubs are effective for Standard and Transmission-Based Precautions.
Most importantly, disposable scrubs help prevent cross-contamination. Going from patient to patient wearing the same scrubs can spread illnesses. Wearing disposable scrubs overtop of your clothing and properly disposing of them after each patient helps contain contaminants before they spread to laundering service workers, your own home, or other patients.
At least two studies have found that disposable surgical scrubs are actually less expensive when compared to reusable options. While a strong economic case can't be made for either option with current data, it appears that the price of disposable apparel is competitive compared to reusable options. Individual healthcare facilities may perform cost analyses to understand exactly how reusable versus disposable scrubs would impact the organization financially.
Advances in textiles and materials have helped disposable scrubs become much softer and more comfortable than previous options. Research has indicated that breathability and temperature levels are in many cases comparable to reusable options.
Of course, personal preference is a factor to be considered. It's possible that hospital staff members would be more open to switching to disposables if they are made aware of newer standards of comfort now available on the market.
The Bottom Line for Healthcare Facilities
Admission to a healthcare facility exposes a person to the risk of infection during their time there or soon after their discharge. Such nosocomial infections, also known as Healthcare-Associated Infections (HcAI), can have a dramatic impact on the immediate and long-term prognosis of patients, and can also threaten the health and safety of healthcare workers and the greater community.
To minimize the prevalence of nosocomial infections, facilities need to engage in consistent infection control policies. These policies need to include personal protective equipment that can reduce contamination and maintain reliable barriers between pathogens and people.
Realistically, washable scrubs and gowns may have a smaller environmental and economic impact than disposable apparel. But the overall effectiveness of disposable scrubs in preventing the transmission of pathogens must be kept in mind. It's also possible that reducing the occurrence of HcAIs through disposable scrubs can cut down on medical costs in the long run.
The implication here is essential—that is, initial upfront costs associated with disposable scrubs can reasonably be expected to be offset by their effectiveness at keeping people safe and preventing illness.
Disposable, single-use scrubs may be the more desirable option for healthcare staff members to protect themselves, their patients, and even their own families and community. Disposable scrubs available on the market today are more comfortable and breathable than ever and are made with durable material that can stand up to the common challenges of working in a healthcare environment.
International Enviroguard's Disposable Scrubs for Healthcare
Ready to learn more about disposable scrubs? Our disposable medical scrubs are made from a durable, three-layer SMS material. This fabric is more breathable and fluid resistant to splashes and sprays, while also protecting against particulates. All Soft Scrubs™ garments are manufactured with anti-static fabric and include a cloth loop to easily hang them up.
We offer three options in dark blue—disposable scrub shirts with long sleeves or short sleeves, and disposable scrub pants with an elastic waist.
- Long-sleeve scrub top and short-sleeve scrub top: Both scrub shirts feature round necks (hemmed), a right front-hip pocket, and a left chest pocket.
- Scrub pants: The elastic waistband is made of latex-free elastic. Pants feature one hip pocket to store small items like pens, scissors, or eyeglasses.
Learn more about our Soft Scrubs™ from International Enviroguard.