ROANOKE, Va. — You’ll recall that in last issue, I began answering a question from a military reader:

“Do you have any guidelines/specifications for processing and sterilizing reusable surgeon gowns?”

In Part 1, I covered bacteria/virus removal, sorting, stains and equipment. I’ll wrap up my answer this time, examining chemistry further, extraction, drying and inspection.

I do not recommend using any bleach or fabric softener on these products. While an argument could be made that bleach will aid in the disinfection of the textile product, it will have no other positive effect and will cause a decrease in life expectancy of the gown.

Since the fabric is 100% man-made polyester, fabric softener will have no effect on the hand of the fabric. Since fabric softener was created to bond with cotton fibers, placing it in a wash formula designed for 100% polyester fabric is a waste of money and will cause quality problems. 

The fabric softener does not bond properly to the fabric but instead creates spots that look like an oil stain. These easily wash out in the next wash cycle but the end-user will reject the gowns because they will look stained. So, simply put, do not use any softener on this category of product.

I do use just enough laundry sour to ensure that the final pH on the gown is close to 6 so that it will not irritate the skin of the user. To maintain a like-new level of barrier quality, I always used a barrier retreatment product.

In my laundry in Milwaukee, we had a Sutter Barrier tester and tested three articles of clothing from every wash load. We were able to show that with the use of a barrier retreatment product the barrier effectiveness of a brand-new gown was the same as a gown that had been processed 75 times.

The extraction cycle does not need to be overly long because the fabric will release its water quickly. I do recommend drying the gowns at a temperature not to exceed 160 F and to avoid over-drying the gowns. Being made of polyester the gowns will easily be damaged by high heat.

Dryers should be inspected between each load to ensure that there are no sharp objects stuck to the side of the dryer. A small piece of wire stuck to the side of the dryer can cause numerous fabric pulls on gowns.

Once the gowns are dried, they should be processed over an inspection table where they are checked for pinholes and to ensure that all the ties are in proper working order.

If possible, the gown should be marked each time it is inspected. This can be done via a bar code, micro-chip or quality control grid. My end users liked the QC grid because they could see how many times the gown had been used and could verify they had been inspected.

Instead of putting an X in the grid, we had the inspector put their number or letter in the grid. This acted as a final quality control check. If there was a problem with the gown discovered by the end-user, we had an accountability trail right back to the inspector.

Each organization determines which department will fold the reusable surgeon gowns and prepare them for steam sterilization. My recommendation here is to work with your system to determine the most acceptable way and location to get this done.

Pass off tabs made popular by disposal gowns are available to be used with reusable gowns to ensure a consistent technique can be used in the OR department.                

Click HERE to read Part 1.