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The Comprehensive Guide to Selecting the Best Lab Coat for Your Application
Protection and an iconic badge of honour
This form of personal protective equipment (PPE) is worn (like a badge of honor) over street clothing to keep us safe from hazardous materials such as chemicals, biological substances, and radioactive substances.
Knee-length, long sleeves to the wrist, and ‘button up to the neck’ features protect against:
- Biological hazards: blood, body fluids, pathogens, etc.
- Chemical hazards: flammables, corrosives, carcinogenic materials, etc.
- Physical hazards: lasers, radiation, pyrophoric materials, etc.
Guidelines for Selection, Use, and Care of Laboratory Coats
The type of material is an important factor when selecting the most suitable coat for the work that you will be doing.
1. Traditional lab coat (white coat)
The most common type is the traditional lab coat or “white coat”, which is lightweight and breathable, made of either cotton or a cotton polyester blend. These coats are not flame resistant with cotton polyester blends being less resistant than 100% cotton.
2. Barrier lab coat
Barrier lab coats are made of 100% polyester and have knit cuffs to prevent skin contact with infectious materials and bloodborne pathogens.
3. Flame resistant lab coat
Flame resistant lab coats are ideal for working with flammable materials in laboratories and production settings. They are made of either flame resistant-treated cotton or Dupont Nomex®.
Flame resistant-treated cotton lab coats offer additional protection against some chemicals and medium risk fires but are not appropriate for use with pyrophoric materials. On the other hand, Nomex flame resistant lab coats, made of tough synthetic (polycarbonamide) fibers that are poor conductors of heat, offer the most protection against flammable and/or pyrophoric materials.
4. Disposable lab coats
Disposable lab coats intended for single use (maximum of eight hours) are made with a variety of materials including polypropylene, polyethene or SMS. They are intended for use in nuclear power plants and pharmaceutical manufacturing or industrial settings, offering protection against non-hazardous liquids, dry materials, and light splashing.
How to select a lab coat
First optimize the function of engineering controls such as fume hoods, splash guards, glove boxes, and the appropriate storage of chemicals. Then select coats based on the following considerations:
- Protection: Select the appropriate type and material based on the type of work that you will be performing, and the specific hazards involved. Refer to J&K Scientific’s summary table below.
- Comfort: After protection is considered, another key factor is comfort. Cotton lab coats are lightweight and breathable options for instance if not working with highly flammable or pyrophoric materials.
- Fit: The fit of a lab coat includes factors such as length (knee length or longer is advised), sleeves that properly cover the arms to the wrist, whether a wristband is needed, and the position of the top button (should reach the neck). A lab coat that is too large may absorb chemicals around the sleeves and/or be a tripping hazard, while one that is too small may limit your range of motion.
- Durability: Cheaper lab coats may be more prone to rips and tears, while sturdier lab coats may be more expensive.
- Additional features: This may include the shape of the sleeve, the placement (and number) of pockets and pass-throughs that allow easier access to inner attire.
To assist in your selection, we highlighted the features of the five most common lab coats.
|Lab Coat||Comfort||Liquid Resistance||Flame Resistance||Advantages||Limitations|
|Traditional (100% cotton)||+ Lightweight and breathable||
+ Not splash resistant or fluid proof
+ Degraded by acids
+ Some resistance to solvents (anecdotal)
+ Superior to polyester blends but still burns
+ Appropriate for research labs involving biological materials, slightly flammable liquids or (small) open flames and clinical settings
+ More breathable than polyester blends
+ Requires a chemical splash apron when handling corrosives
+ Not appropriate for use with pyrophoric materials
|Traditional (cotton polyester blend)||+ Lightweight and breathable||
+ May be splash resistant
+ Unknown chemical resistance
+ Some protection against corrosives
+ Not flame resistant. Coats with more cotton will burn less readily.
+ 65/35 and 40/60 polyester/cotton blends are generally suitable for chemical research laboratories
+ Good for clinical settings and labs handling biological materials
+ Better protection against acids than cotton (anecdotal)
|+ Burns more readily when ignited; not appropriate for use with flammables, pyrophoric materials, or near open flames|
Barrier (100% polyester)
+ Less breathable than cotton
|+ Barrier to splashes, chemicals, particles, and biological fluids||
+ Not flame resistant
+ 100 % polyester and 80/20 blend lab coats are not recommended for chemical laboratories 
+ More expensive than standard lab coats
+ Supplement with an apron for acid handling
|Dupont Nomex®||+ Breathable but bulkier than cotton||
+ Limited splash resistance
+ Unknown chemical Resistance
+ Flame resistant
+ Fibers enlarge when exposed to heat to increase the distance between the flame and skin
+ Appropriate for research labs or industrial settings that work with flammables
+ Protects against open flames, pyrophoric materials, arc flashes, and flash fires
+ Material is intrinsically flame-resistant and not affected by laundering, provided that bleach is not used
Once you have selected a lab coat, it is critical that you maintain and use it properly.
- Wear a lab coat at all times while in a lab
- Button your lab coat completely
- Remove it immediately if it catches on fire
- Wear a rubber apron when working with corrosives
- Wear a disposable lab coat if working with extremely hazardous materials
- Consider significantly contaminated coats and clothing as hazardous waste, which needs to be segregated appropriately
- Wear lab coats outside the lab to prevent cross-contamination
- Wear disposable lab coats for more than eight hours, or if it has been soiled
- Roll up your sleeves
- Launder lab coats at home. Instead use an appropriate laundry service.