The lab coat has been a symbol of scientific rigor, intelligence, cleanliness, sophistication, and is always (of course) iconically white.
Beyond simple tradition, there are some surprising benefits to be drawn from the white lab coat’s quintessential tone.
- For one, it’s easy to pick out, which makes it easier for patients and other hospital colleagues to spot the doctors and scientists from other staff in a lab or medical setting, and for medical students to be identified on campus.
- The colorless fabric’s infamous tendency to pick up stains is also a big plus (though it doesn’t feel that way when you’re blotched with something); since stains are so easy to notice you can quickly notice if you’ve spilled a potentially-hazardous substance on yourself.
Of course, the ability to pick up stains easily doesn’t sound like benefit with some pain-in-the-keister strings attached. White being so strongly associated with cleanliness means that any staining will completely throw off that iconic image (and can, perhaps lead to patients feeling a bit uncomfortable). How, then, should you go about keeping your lab coat white?
Since you need to keep your lab coat nearly immaculate for as long as possible, cleaning it is an absolute must—don’t just do it once a week. Not only will washing your white coat regularly keep it from picking up any unwanted color, it’s also very important to do so as it will pick up germs and other potentially harmful, not necessarily visible substances.
This, actually, was an important talking point during a controversial criticism of the white lab coat. Many sources claimed that the white coat was actually a harmful element of a doctor’s ensemble, as the fabric that regularly visited sick patients is bound to pick up and spread some of germs. While the concern is legitimate, the exact same can be said about any fabric a doctor, nurse, or physician might wear near patients—we’d ask you, when’s the last time you washed a necktie?
Washing your lab coat regularly, therefore, is important no matter what. With respect to keeping it white, it’s also very helpful when dealing with stains. Stains in general are much easier to treat when the fabric has been washed regularly.
Be extra careful when washing your lab coat. Always check the pockets for pens, pencils, loose paper, etc. Before putting it in the washing machine, presoak it with warm water and an oxygen-based bleach.
Even if you like to live dangerously with the rest of your laundry, do not wash your white coat with other colors! If your white undershirt picks up a little color from your red socks, you’ve just got a slightly tinted undershirt. If your white lab coat picks up some color from your other laundry…well, it isn’t exactly a white lab coat anymore.
Regular maintenance, however, is not the only thing you need to have in mind to keep your labcoat white. Sometimes, some more aggressive intervention is necessary, especially when dealing with stains.
Not all stains are created equal and, when in any setting that requires a white lab coat, chances are there are all sorts of stains that you might have to deal with. Here’s how to deal with a few of the common culprits.
Did you sit on a pen? Brush against an open case of toner? Maybe you left your lab coat in the reach of some children with accessible art supplies.
Whatever the reason might be, ink stains are known to be particularly nasty. Your first instinct might be to rub it off with a paper towel or to run it under some water—but do not follow your instincts on this one. Leave the ink stain exactly as it is until you get a chance to fully wash the lab coat.
When you have that time, spray the stain with a generous helping of hairspray (yes, really). Let the coat sit like that for at least an hour, then throw it into a regular wash cycle. Before drying the lab coat, check and see if the stain is gone. If it isn’t, redo the hairspray step and throw it in the washing machine again after an hour.
This is one of the usual suspects, especially on doctor and medical student lab coats. Luckily, blood stains are usually pretty cooperative when dealt with appropriately.
As soon as you notice it, treat the stain with some hydrogen peroxide. The sooner the better, but if you’ve noticed the stain at some point an hour or more after you’ve picked it up, this is still a good first step.
Then later, once you get the chance after your shift, soak the lab coat in cold water and then wash it with cold water and a heavy-duty laundry detergent. If the stain survives the cycle, leave the white coat soaking overnight in water with some OxiClean powder.
Other bodily fluids
Other bodily fluids, especially ones potentially carrying contagious bacteria, can be tricky to deal with. It’s important to clean these stains properly so the bacteria doesn’t live on your lab coat and hop onto other patients (or you).
First, always scrape off any solid or semi-solid residue without rubbing it in. Fill a bucket with hot water and some bleach and soak the white coat for about 30 minutes. A warm water wash cycle afterwards should do the trick.
This sure does happen! As soon as you can, run the stain under some cold water and spray some stain remover on it afterwards. Make sure to get the coat in the wash as soon as you can, ideally immediately.
Again, it happens! The ideal solution for this is to have a stain removal pen handy—these work the best. If you don’t have one on you, some water and paper towels in the bathroom should help keep the stain from setting.
Then, as soon as you get the chance, spray the stain with some stain remover and soak the coat overnight with some OxiClean, then throw it in a normal wash cycle immediately afterwards. Make sure to not oversoak the coat, as this could lead to some unpleasant odors.
What if I’m at the hospital and need to whiten my lab coat on the fly?
The best (and most common), often required solution for this is to have another labcoat ready to go.
Some small blood stains can be removed completely if immediately treated with hydrogen peroxide and cold water, and a stain removal pen can save the day when dealing with some food stains, but a lot of stains are not only going to need more attention, they’ll often render the lab coat unsafe to keep wearing.
Spilling an acid on yourself, for example, can’t be fixed with a little water. Having another white lab coat ready to go is the only way to go in this situation, and is probably the best solution in general.