In the medical and research fields, new milestones seem to hit the news every day. While disposable lab coats may not necessarily qualify as groundbreaking, they are a significant new component in the fields of science. Cloth lab coats tend to be more expensive, and they also require special laundering services. On the other hand, disposable lab coats are inexpensive and recyclable, and have qualities unique to their kind, making them competitive with standard cloth lab coats.
One company revolutionizing the disposable lab coat industry is Du Pont, the same company that is responsible for brands such as Kevlar and Teflon. Their brand Tyvek has helped Du Pont become recognized as the global leader in selective barrier technology—and it’s the brand that makes disposable lab coats (along with other products). According to Du Pont’s Tyvek website, Tyvek is:
“a family of tough, durable spunbonded olefin sheet products that are stronger than paper and more cost-effective and versatile than fabrics. Made from high density polyethylene fibers, Spunbonded Olefin is an extremely versatile material, offering a balance of physical characteristics that combine the best properties of paper, film and cloth”.
This spunbonded olefin is made from spinning together thousands of fibers that are over 7 times thinner than a human hair in a random sort of way, and then bonding the spun fibers with heat and pressure, not with binding elements. This process allows the material of the lab coats to be inert, or inactive, with most acids, bases, and salts. It’s lighter than paper and easy to cut with a knife or scissors, but is hard to rip or tear. This is a good trait for a lab coat, as rips and tears can mean exposing skin to dangerous or hazardous materials.
On top of being highly inert and strong, olefin material has an even wider range of positive qualities. According to the Tyvek website, these materials are remarkably flexible, low-linting, have great moisture resistance and liquid barrier protection, are opaque, resist molding and mildew well, have a neutral pH, UV resistance, and are recyclable. That’s right—on top of being relatively cheap (try around $2-$5 per coat), these coats can be recycled. Cloth lab coats, on the other hand, run between $15 and $40 on average and must be laundered by special companies that are qualified to deal with the hazardous materials that could be present. Disposable lab coats are also made to only last through one usage, or few limited uses, and so they can be made in a variety of ways to better fit the needs of the scientist wearing them. Some are made with thin layers of antimicrobial material so that tiny microbes can’t work their way through the coat; others are made with a thin layer of plastic so that they are resistant to liquids.
With all the pros of disposable lab coats, it may be hard to see why cloth lab coats are still an option. Cloth lab coats tend to be better when protecting against hazardous materials, but must be supplemented when dealing with corrosive agents. Treated cotton lab coats are also flame retardant, unlike disposable lab coats, which