Lab Coats

​​​​Lab coats should be worn by laboratory employees and students whenever there is a reasonable risk of chemical exposure to skin. Lab coats that become contaminated with chemicals must be evaluated on each case. Those that are contaminated with acutely hazardous chemicals must not be laundered or reused. Lab coats that have been grossly contaminated with non-acutely hazardous waste may also be designated for disposal rather than laundering, depending on the chemical nature of the contaminant(s), since laundering may spread contamination and/or result in discharge of effluent that exceeds local limits. Lab coats that have been contaminated due to incidental contact with non-acutely hazardous chemicals or that have become dirty from regular use may be laundered on site or by a commercial vendor that has expertise in cleaning lab coats.

Appropriate clothing should be worn underneath a lab coat and while in the lab at all times. Appropriate clothing is clothing that does not leave any skin exposed like legs or stomach. It is preferred that clothing is made out of natural fibers like cotton, as clothing made with synthetic fibers can potentially melt and adhere to the skin during a fire.

Flame-resistant lab coats must be worn when handling pyrophoric or extremely flammable (flashpoint <73 ⁰F) substances. These Lab coats must be cleaned by a qualified commercial vendor in order to retain the flame-resistant properties.

Why use a lab coat? 

  • Provides protection of skin and personal clothing from incidental contact with hazardous materials and small splashes;
  • Prevents the spread of contamination outside the lab (provided they are not worn outside the lab);
  • Provides a removable barrier in the event of an incident involving a spill or splash of hazardous substances.
  • Lab coats should not be used as a substitute for engineering controls such as a fume hood, glove box, etc., or a substitute for good work practices and chemical hygiene. 
    • For significant chemical handling - you should supplement lab coat use with additional protective clothing I.e.; rubber or vinyl apron for handling large quantities of corrosives or hydrofluoric acid;
    • The use of engineering controls does NOT permit you to forgo PPE like a lab coat. 
  • Lab coats are not designed to be the equivalent of chemical protection suits for major chemical handling or emergencies. 
    • There is little or no information provided by manufacturers or distributors about the capability of a lab coat for a combination of hazards.
    • A coat that is described as “flame resistant”, such as treated cotton, may not be chemical resistant or acid resistant.
    • A coat that is advertised as flame resistant has not been tested using criteria involving flammable chemicals on the coat.
    • The term “flame resistant” refers to the characteristic of a fabric that causes it not to burn in air. The flame resistance test criteria were intended to simulate circumstances of a flash fire, or electric arc flash, not a chemical fire.

How do I choose the correct lab coat? 

  • Perform a hazard assessment
  • Consider the following
    • Does your lab work primarily with chemicals, biological agents, radioisotopes, or a mix of things?
    • Does your lab work involve animal handling?
    • Are there large quantities of flammable materials (>4 liters) used in a process or experiment?
    • Are there water reactive or pyrophoric materials used in the open air, e.g. in a fume hood instead of a glove box?
    • Are there open flames or hot processes along with a significant amount of flammables?
    • How are hazardous chemicals used and what engineering controls are available, e.g. a fume hood or glove box?
    • Is there a significant risk of spill, splash or splatter for the tasks being done?
    • What is the toxicity of chemicals used and is there concern about inadvertent spread of contamination?
  • While there are many different style features, from a protection standpoint the best coats have the following characteristics:
    • Tight cuffs (knitted or elastic);
    • Snap closures on the front for easy removal in case of contamination;
    • Coats with different properties are easy to tell apart (ex: flame resistant (FR) coats should have outer markings clearly identifying them as FR coats and can be ordered in a different color than other coats present in the lab);
    • Proper fit -  get checked for appropriate size.
    • Use only your designated lab coat. Do not use others lab coats.
    • Appropriate material for hazards to be encountered
  • One coat may not work for all lab operations.
    • Some people may want to provide a basic poly/cotton blend coat for most operations, but have available lab coats of treated cotton or Nomex for work involving pyrophoric materials, extremely flammable chemicals, large quantities of flammable chemicals, or work around hot processes or operations.
    • If chemical splash is also a concern, use of a rubber apron over the flame resistant lab coat is recommended. Lab coat materials may be made of materials for limited reuse, or disposable one time use.

As a note: Work with pyrophoric, spontaneously combustible, or extremely flammable chemicals presents an especially high potential for fire and burn risks to the skin.

  • You should use a fire retardant or fire resistant (FR) lab coat when handling pyrophoric chemicals outside of a glove box.  
  • An FR lab coat is recommended when working with any flammable materials.
  • The primary materials used for FR lab coats are FR-treated cotton or Nomex.
  • There is also a newer flame resistant and chemical resistant (FR/CP) lab coat that offers additional protection against many chemicals.
  • Consider the use of flame resistant gloves as well. 
Type of Lab Coat Hazards
Polyester/Cotton Blend, 80/20 most common (recommend a minimum of 65% polyester for chemical research lab setting) General chemical, biological, or radiosotopes
Shieldtec (FR/CP) Corrosives, highly flammable materials, pyrophorics, and/or other chemical splash
Nomex Highly flammable materials, pyrophorics, welding, arc flash
FR treated cotton Higly flammable materials, pyrophorics, welding, arc flash
Reusable fluid resistant coats High contamination (biological)
Polypropylene lab coat Intended for protection from dirt, grime, dry particulates in relatively non-hazardous environment such as animal handling and clean rooms
100% cotton Good for labs where acid handling is limited and splash resistance is not a concern, and there is some work with flammables, heat and flame. Supplement with an apron for acid handling
Chemical Hygene Plan - Table of Contents