Reusable or Disposable PPE: What’s Better?

The arguments supporting reusable or disposable PPE have reemerged with great urgency. Most of the world was underprepared for the outbreak of COVID-19. At its onset, the medical community had trouble gathering enough ppe to safely fight the infection. As cases in the U.S. surge, Medical PPE shortages are on the horizon again. 

This is an unacceptable hurdle the medical community has to navigate while fighting the virus. 

The Current Problem with Disposable PPE

Some of the issues that have caused this problem can be traced back to a lack of reusable PPE (personal protective equipment) options. While there are PPE items that can’t be reusable, many single-use items have viable, reusable alternatives. Problems with the current usage of disposable PPE that goes beyond supply (and the lack thereof). At the top of this list of issues is its unsustainability.

All disposable PPEs are designed for single use. Disposable options cannot be washed as most laundering methods threaten their integrity and capacity to protect. They are meant to be leak-proof, fluid-proof, and resistant to tears and cuts but only under normal circumstances. When you put high-temperature water, detergent, and disinfectants into the picture, you lose these guarantees.

As a result, it’s important that single-use PPE is disposed of after being used. In many countries like the UK, PPEs are considered contaminated and are sent to the incinerators. (Other COVID essentials like face masks and latex gloves find themselves in more harmful endings: in the world’s oceans).  

To combat the shortages, many medical professionals make do with what’s available by easing their own practices on PPE. For example, this nursing blog that offers tips on how to properly and safely reuse supposedly single-use PPE. Additionally, the FDA itself has recently approved a decontamination process designed for single-use PPEs. After all, some PPE is better than no PPE at all.

The Case for Reusable PPEs

The shortage of disposable PPEs has raised the question on the viability of a more sustainable alternative. In fact, there is! Equipment like gowns, isolation drapes, lab coats, and scrubs, have viable, effective reusable PPE alternatives. Professional medical laundering procedures that go beyond industry-regulatory compliance are necessary to ensure safe use. Here’s why reusable PPE is a viable, even superior option to disposable PPE: 

  1.   Reusable PPE is readily available. Disinfecting and handling reusable PPEs take far less time than waiting for new shipments of disposable PPE supplies. In the hands of a medical laundry specialist, the turnaround time is lower, making the PPEs more easily available. This means that personnel and patients alike would not have to worry about having to wear their single-use PPEs longer or more times than is recommended.
  2.   Reusable PPE is sustainable. Reusable PPEs do not end up as nonbiodegradable plastic waste after eight hours. They get reused, leaving far fewer carbon footprint than the plastic counterpart.  
  3.   Reusable PPE is safe. Research suggests that the virus survives on cloth materials for less than two days. Furthermore, the virus becomes inactive at a minimum of 70℃ (158℉). A simple cocktail of disinfectants have also been found to effectively deactivate most strains of coronavirus, including the type responsible for COVID-19. The right laundry service facility, can effectively and safely process and return your medical facility’s PPE. 

Unfortunately, the use of reusable PPE is unlikely to eliminate the need for disposable PPE. However, introducing it as an alternative, especially in less crucial areas of care, can greatly reduce the demand pressures on PPE supply. 

For a reliable supply of reusable medical PPE, contact Medico Healthcare Linen Services. We can be reached at (800) 464-6334.