How to clean disposable gowns and masks more safely

  • Testing by Nikwax shows disposable masks and gowns can be cleaned in a washing process whilst maintaining their functional qualities
  • The process could be rolled out quickly using existing cleaning facilities
  • Safely reusing disposable or single-use PPE could increase effective supply by 5 times in a crisis situation

    Health innovation to alleviate PPE crisis
    Nikwax, the UK’s leading producer of cleaning and waterproofing solutions for Outdoor Clothing, has created a new process to launder certain single-use Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) more safely. Unlike existing cleaning methods, Nikwax ‘PPE Extension’ maintains the physical and water repellent properties needed to stop disease transmission. The innovation is a direct response to help in the global fight against COVID-19. It is aimed at situations where supply has run out and workers are at risk from over-extending the use of masks and gowns.

    A water repellent barrier to infection
    Existing hot washing methods disable disposable PPE by degrading its physical structure and destroying water repellency. Water repellency is key to ensuring PPE forms an effective barrier against infection from bodily fluids. Without it, PPE fabric and filters can become saturated, forming a fluid bridge across which infections are transmitted. Nikwax ‘PPE Extension’ ensures water repellency is restored and physical structure maintained. Nikwax has over 40 years’ experience in technical textile cleaning and waterproofing. The firm has received examples of typical masks and gowns from NHS Trusts, who have also supplied advice about existing cleaning processes in hospitals. Analysis, testing and development has shown that disposable FFP3 masks and clinical gowns could be cleaned up to five times without significant loss of functionality.Nikwax are publishing their full work, methods and arguments on their website, with the aim of extending the dialogue with professionals in this area.

    Re-usable gowns and masks would be a cheaper, more sustainable alternative
    Nick Brown, CEO and founder of Nikwax said, “COVID-19 has created a massive spike in demand for disposable PPE. Healthcare workers need the right equipment to help them stay safe and limit the spread of infection. We came up with a simple way of cleaning and restoring water repellency for outdoor gear in a washing machine many years ago. In the long-term, the right solution to this problem has to be equipment that has been designed to be re-used many times, and not thrown away after one use.”Throughout the world, PPE is largely single-use. Vast amounts are created, used for a short amount of time and then incinerated or sent to landfill. Finding ways to extend PPE’s lifespan safely not only increases the effective supply, but also creates clear environmental benefits. There are still logistical and communications barriers to overcome before the Nikwax process is widely adopted. However, a safe process to facilitate the re-use of protective equipment facilitates a cheaper, more strategically sound and environmentally friendly alternative to current systems.

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