High-quality personal protective equipment (PPE) not only offers optimum protection and wearing comfort, but also lasts longer than less expensive ones. At the same time, it also makes a significant contribution to sustainability – because only a product which is worn for a long time is truly sustainable: according to Life Cycle Assessment, about two-thirds of the environmental impact of personal protective clothing occurs during production and distribution.
To make effective use of the resources expended, PPE should therefore be worn for as long as possible. In addition to high quality, care is also essential, because dirt or other contaminations like oil, grease or bitumen, can impair the protective performance of PPE. Miguel Calixto, Product Specialist at GORE-TEX Professional, explains in seven steps what needs to be considered when caring for protective workwear with GORE-TEX technologies to ensure they retain their protective properties and breathability throughout their lifetime.
Step 1: Preparation
As a general rule of thumb, the more PPE is worn, the more often it must be washed. It all starts with the right preparation for washing. In this case, that means following the manufacturer’s care instructions and preparing the clothing accordingly. Close and cover all Velcro and zips to prevent debris buildup and textile damage. Ensure all pockets are empty, remove detachable metal parts and loosen drawstrings. Pre-washing is recommended in case of heavy soiling.
Step 2: Washing process
PPE can be washed using a normal domestic washing machine and commercially available colour detergent. The clothing should always be washed from the outside, i.e., with the outer material facing outwards. It is important that the detergents do not have a very high or very low pH value and do not contain chlorates or fabric softeners. Protective clothing must always be washed separately from other clothing to avoid cross-contamination of the outer fabric with other garments, for example, by deposits of foreign matter such as cotton lint or fluff. As well as cross-contamination of possible hazardous substances onto other non-work garments. Also, the washing machine should only be filled to two-thirds capacity.
Select an intensive wash programme with a pre-wash for optimal results. It is essential to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for choosing the right temperature. For example, some garments require warm temperatures and others hot to achieve the best results. To remove all alkaline and flammable detergent residues, a total of four rinses are required. Conventional easy-care wash programs usually have three rinses, so the rinse programme should be repeated. The subsequent spin cycle should ideally be carried out in a separate programme so that the garments can be turned inside out – with the insulating lining facing out – beforehand.
For very heavily soiled protective clothing, chemical cleaning by specialists is recommended. It is particularly effective for non-water-soluble soiling (e.g., oil, grease, or bitumen).
Step 3: Drying
The best and easiest way is to dry it in a tumble dryer. The heat of the dryer reactivates the water-repellent impregnation of the outer fabric. If a tumble dryer is not available, the clothing can also be air-dried. To prevent the colour from fading, the protective clothing should not be dried in the sun or other UV light.
Step 4: Ironing
The last step in the drying process is ironing. If the clothes have been air-dried, this step ensures that the heat reactivates the impregnation. Ironing is done at a medium temperature (110 °C to a maximum of 150 °C) without steam. Reflective stripes should be covered with a cloth to protect them before ironing.
Step 5: Impregnation
If the water does not bead up on the surface of the garment after it has been washed and dried in the dryer, the factory-applied impregnation has worn out. In this case, the protective clothing should be retreated with a water-repellent polymer impregnation.
Step 6: Repair
As a rule, damaged garments should be professionally repaired as soon as possible to ensure continued optimum protection. Even though protective workwear with GORE-TEX® technologies are designed and tested to be durable, damage can occur during normal use – for example, if the wearer gets caught on sharp objects. A durable repair offers a sustainable solution to this.
There are different ways to do this: a repair by a Gore-authorised repair centre or by the manufacturer, or the use of a repair kit. An example: Gore, together with Wenaas, a Norwegian international supplier of protective workwear, has developed a repair kit for GORE-TEX PYRAD® workwear with arc flash protection. The kit allows consumers to repair their GORE-TEX PYRAD® garments on their own: by applying a patch, the spread of a tear is prevented and the life of the GORE-TEX PYRAD® protective clothing is extended.
Step 7: PPE at end of product life
If it is no longer possible to repair the protective clothing, the used clothing can be incinerated at a waste incineration plant, which in turn recovers energy. Whether chemical recycling of used clothing is environmentally feasible and financially viable depends on many factors: not least the condition of the PPE, the degree of cross-contamination, the different elements of a multi-material garment construction and, above all, whether there is an industrial recycling process available that can deliver high-quality products from the recycled material.
Plus points for care
These seven steps show that protective workwear with GORE-TEX technology is not only durable, but also extremely easy to care for. Proper and regular care, laundering or cleaning, and repair of PPE ensures its functionality and maximises its potential lifespan whilst minimising its environmental impact.
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