The Mölnlycke Health Care blog

Scrubs – should we wash or replace them?

By : Karin Ganlöv, November 9 2012Posted in: The Mölnlycke Health Care blog

Imagine surgeons wearing just an apron to protect their everyday clothes during surgery. It isn’t that long ago, yet the situation seems almost surreal to most OR staff.  Besides identifying the team, surgical clothing today plays an essential role in the success of an operation: namely infection control. But let’s take a look in the mirror. In a discipline at the forefront of cutting edge science and technology constantly introducing new and more advanced solutions – have the familiar scrub suits remained the same since their widespread adoption in the 1960s and -70s?

Current Standards
We all know that clean air is a key part of a successful operation. The basic premise of surgical clothing remains the same as in the early scrub days: a barrier preventing pathogens from becoming airborne. Along with controlled ventilation and air filtration systems in the operating room, this results in fewer infections and the importance of the surgical clothing barrier is recognised by the existence of agreed standards. So is there really a problem? Well, traditional textile surgical clothing forms an effective barrier when brand new, but performance deteriorates over time through wear and cleaning. Unsurprisingly there are new alternatives which claim to offer benefits in infection control: disposable surgical clothing systems or clean air suits. Despite these advances, a majority of OR settings are still textile strongholds. What does it take to change outdated habits and challenge well-known routines?

The Next Generation
A study, performed by Chalmers University of Technology, compared three disposable surgical clothing systems with a widely used reusable clothing system1. The reusable clothing was taken from operating room supplies (having been washed up to 50 times). Testers performed a series of standardized movements in a closed chamber and the numbers of pathogen containing airborne particles generated were measured for each clothing system.

The performance of the disposable clean air suits was clearly superior, with a 75 percent reduction in infectious particles measured compared to the reusable clothing. The single use nature of the disposable clean air suits means that this performance is guaranteed time after time.

Is it time for some new scrubs? In the drive for OR Efficiency it’s often re-appraising the things we take for granted that makes a difference.


  1. Ljungvist B and Reinmϋller. People as a contamination source: surgical clothing systems for operating rooms – a comparison between disposable non-woven and reusable mixed material systems. Chalmers University of Technology
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The surgical and wound care environment is always changing. The Mölnlycke Health Care blog addresses topics and trends in surgery and wound care. Among these topics are efficiency, health economy, infection control and patient safety. Read more about this blog and how to comment


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