Barrier Re-treatment Somewhat Pricey but Worth Considering

Eric Frederick |

I started using a washer-applied barrier re-treatment product in 1997. I’m surprised by how poorly this product has been accepted in the market. I realize that the various products are pricey but feel that if the case for their use were properly laid out, everyone would use them.
I’ve listened carefully as speakers from the American Reusable Textile Association (ARTA) and various linen companies have discussed the new barrier classification system. I’ve heard respected industry experts such as Brad Bushman of Standard Textile explain that their products must start significantly over the required level so that they will still exceed the minimum level set by the standard by the time they reach the end of recommended life.
What I haven’t heard is that the reusable surgical linen (non-Gore-Tex®) loses some barrier effectiveness with every wash. It doesn’t matter which manufacturer you buy from or which chemical company you use. If this surgical linen is improperly processed using excessive amounts of alkali and at high temperature (normally used to remove oil stains), the barrier level will quickly drop to unacceptable.
Given the price of this new-generation reusable surgical linen, it’s imperative that each piece of linen stays in the system for as many processes as possible.
A Gore-Tex surgeon gown, at first glance, appears to be an item that doesn’t need a barrier re-treatment product. The barrier is created by a thin piece of Teflon® sandwiched between two layers of 100% polyester fiber. The polyester fiber is treated with a water-repellent product during manufacture. Why would they submit the polyester to a barrier treatment when the barrier nature of the gown is based on the Teflon in the middle layer? The reason is that polyester fibers love oil. A quality barrier program that prevents the outside panel from being stained by oil will allow the gown to be used multiple times.
Unfortunately, the barrier on the polyester panels is gradually removed during each process. If the product is washed in an aggressive wash formula, this barrier can be significantly compromised in as few as 10 washings. Once this barrier is compromised, mineral oils and fats readily stain the gown during surgery.
If a $75 gown is expected to get 75 uses during its life, the product cost per use is $1. The cost of using a barrier re-treatment program is about 5 cents per use, raising the gown’s per-use cost to $1.05. If the gown becomes unusable after 50 uses, for example, the actual product cost becomes $1.50 per use. If you’re using an aggressive wash formula and only get 25 uses before it becomes stained, then your cost is $3.00 per use. The break-even point on using the product is set at four additional uses.
It’s clear that the cost of using a barrier re-treatment product on the new-generation reusable barrier linen can quickly be covered by extended garment life. It also provides a quality assurance program that’ll be appreciated by your customers.
We conducted extensive Suter hydrostatic tests on reusable barrier linen trying to determine the optimum wash formula. After a year of testing, we conclusively proved that the re-treatment product eliminated the loss of barrier. In the case of operating room wrappers and isolation gowns, we actually saw an increase in their barrier properties from when they were new. We tested isolation gowns that had been processed more than 100 times and found the barrier was better than the day they came out of the box. We also tracked our rewash and found that our rates went down.
It’s surprising to me that the major linen companies haven’t endorsed this product. It enhances their product and, when used properly, ensures it will get maximum life. These companies wouldn’t need to over-engineer their product if they’d simply recommend the use of this type of product during the wash cycle. Its use would also remove a selling point frequently used by companies marketing disposable products.

About the author

Eric Frederick

Carilion Laundry Service

Director of Laundry Services

Eric Frederick is director of laundry services for Carilion Laundry Service, Roanoke, Va., and past president of the National Association of Institutional Linen Management (NAILM), now called the Association for Linen Management (ALM). He’s a two-time association manager of the year. You can reach him by e-mail at


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