Getting more bang for your buck out of lab coats

By: January 8th, 2009 Email This Post Print This Post

With tightening budgets in 2009, even the simplest thing, like buying lab coats, could be a painstaking process.

But don’t rush out and buy the cheapest lab coats you can find. There is a lot to consider besides just the initial cost.

There are four major components that consider both cost and safety, according to The Complete Guide to Laboratory Safety. OSHA requires that PPE fabric meets the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) requirements for strength, permeability and breathability listed below.

  • Water repellency/spray training: Lab coats are rated on a scale of 0-100 (ISO 5). Ratings higher than 50 at maximum-rated washes indicate that that fluids splashing or spraying the surface of the fabric have not penetrated the underside. Be sure to ask the vendor the specific rating after the required number of washes. A lower rating will be cheaper, but you’ll likely be throwing away coats more frequently.
  • The Suter hydrostatic pressure test: A Suter scare measures the fabrics resistance to the penetration of water under static pressure. Scores range from 0-1,000, with the highest being impervious to liquids. However, the more resistant the coat the less comfortable it will be. If your staff only requires protection from a potential spray, select a coat in the 400-500 range, for optimum comfort and protection. If you are buying for staff members in the autopsy suite or surgery, select a coat with a Suter rating higher than 500, but bear in mind, the higher the rating the more likely you’ll get resistance from you staff. In such cases, consider a fluid-proof apron that can be worn over a more comfortable coat.
  • Air permeability: Breathability is key in keeping staff happy. Coats are measure by cubic feet per minute (CFM), and the material will determine the coat’s durability. An 80/20 cotton/polyester blend has an approximate rating of 15 CFM, while surgical material is zero, because it is impermeable. Ask the manufacturer for the permeability ratings for each coat under ASTM D-737-96. Ideally, a lab coat will be 12 or higher for greatest comfort.
  • The break test: This measures fabric durability. Obviously the more you wash coats and the conditions under which they are washed affects the life of the garment. The test is measured in inch pounds, and polyester cotton blends usually have a break strength of 50-80 inch pounds when new. Polyester fibers are stronger and last longer when washed with hot water and no bleach. But high pH detergents will break down the coat quicker. Ideally you want a break strength of 150 or more with less than 5% decrease after 175 washings. Be sure to ask your vendor these questions. Even if you are spending a little extra for a durable coat, you’ll see considerable savings in the long run.

Another aspect to consider is length. Although OSHA has no standard on lab coat length, a general rule of thumb is that coats be at least knee length to cover the majority of an employee’s clothing and protect from chemical spills as well as blood or bodily fluids.

Have more questions about lab coats? Have you found the perfect one? Let us know below.


I would like to know what is the recommend frequency for washing a lab coat used for PPE… We have policy stating to wash it on a regular basis or any time it becomes contaminated, but I can not find a definition for “regular basis”. Is there a recommendation from the CDC or OSHA on how often to launder reusable PPE such as Lab Coats?

Also, is there a recommend test to ensure the coat will still be water repellent following cleaning? I have considered the cupping of the material on the sleeve to putting water in the cup to see how long it would prevent it from penetrating, but I am not sure what call a sufficient amount of time.


By Evan Sweeney on February 5th, 2009 at 4:51 pm

Good questions, Wallace. This response comes from Terry Jo Gile, The Safety Lady:

When a lab coat gets visibly contaminated with blood or body fluids it must be put into the wash according to the Bloodborne pathogen documents. Where I worked before laundry was picked up each week and returned the following week. We issued each employee 3 coats – one to wear, one to put in the weekly wash and one that was clean and on the rack. Normal soil, perspiration and wear and tear makes weekly washing a good idea.

All vendors of lab coats will have documentation of the ASTM specs for their coat. It should be able to withstand 150 or more washings and have a spray rating of 100 which means the water rolls off the coat. You don’t have to check each coat but you should check 10% of them when they come back from the laundry. Use a dropper of water and just place a few drops on the coat and see if it rolls off. If it does not, then it indicates the coatings on the fabric are beginning to fail. All of this is explained in my book Complete Guide to Lab Safety, 2nd Edition in Chapter 4 pages 54-62.

Do lab coats have to be a certain length? Is there a written requirement? I know they have mentioned that knee length is better, but I can’t find anywhere that it is required.

By kinjalpatel on July 10th, 2009 at 7:17 am

Is there any standard for the length of the sleeves of laboratory coat specially for working in Research and Development laboratory ?


OSHA requires that PPE provided must “fit” employees properly. I work in a clinical lab that provides one size fits all isolation gowns as our PPE. And, of course, one size does not fit all. On most employees they are very large and have lot of extra fabric on the sleeves that hangs down. The lab has requested lab coats, but the hospital does not want to make the change, because of the increased cost of supplying lab coats or disposable lab coats. In your opinion, should lab coats of varying sizes be provided if the lab is to be compliant with the OSHA standard.


How should one wash a pathogen exposed lab coat? With bleach? How much bleach? for how long an exposure?

We work with some pathogens and even if I don’t get any one me there are still aerosols contaminating the coat.

thanks for any inight,


By David LaHoda on September 11th, 2009 at 8:52 am

A separate post was created to answer this question See Lab coat Q&A.

where I work as a phlebotomist, I am responsible for bringing my lab coat home and washing it. Is that a osha violation?

If your lab coat is considered a uniform then it is acceptable to take it home and wash it yourself. However, if the lab coat is considered PPE, the coat must be washed by the facility either in-house or by an outside facility and this is required by OSHA.

By Roslyn Ryans on October 23rd, 2009 at 1:47 pm

I work a a facility where we are using organic chemicals and solvents for analysis – no biohazards. What is the reccommended place to leave labcoats when they are not being worn in the lab in this case?

By Evan Sweeney on October 26th, 2009 at 10:23 am

From Terry Jo Gile:

The same requirements apply to lab coats used when working with chemicals as with blood and body fluids (OSHA Chemical Hygiene Standard, 29 CFR 1910.1450). Most labs have a rack or coat hook where lab coats that are in use can be placed when leaving the lab for breaks or lunch. Coats that are in use must not be stored in the same place as clean coats or in lockers next to personal items or clothing.

By cheryl mason on February 3rd, 2010 at 3:01 pm

hello, i am a student in the medical field, and i would like to know if you can wear a regular jacket over your scrub top in our school lab or in our school. what is osha standared for labs in a school setting. thank you

which ASTM method is used to test for water repellency of a labcoat material? Will disposalbe labcoat use the same test method when determing the rating of repellency?

Which ASTM method is used to test for hydrostatic pressure test?


By David LaHoda on December 2nd, 2010 at 10:13 am

Find answers to the questions above in the recent Safety Lady post “Does your lab coat pass the test?”

By Phyllis Ruther on March 19th, 2012 at 12:37 pm

When the OSHA blood Borne Pathogens regulations were being implemented, I remember going to meetings where they were explained & seeing lab coats being tested for permeability. I work at a hospital that uses disposable lab coats, and from time to time the brand is changed. This morning when I put my lab coat on I noticed how thin it was & decided to see how impermeable it was. I put a few drops of water on my sleeve & it went RIGHT THROUGH! Surely this is not acceptable! Where can I find what the regulations actually are so I can bring it to the attention of those who order the lab coats?
Thanks, Phyllis Ruther

By chris newhart on December 18th, 2015 at 6:31 am

My lab is looking into getting new lab coats. It is in question as to weather or not we can have these embroidered due to regulations. Will the embroidering affect the permeability and be against proper ppo? thanks


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