Single-Use vs. Reusable Sterile Garments: Reducing Contamination in Cleanrooms

Single-Use vs Reusable Garments

In the highly controlled environments of cleanrooms, human activity can be a significant source of contamination. Workers in these environments typically wear sterile garments, either single-use or reusable. Understanding the implications of the choice of protective apparel is essential for maintaining cleanroom standards and reducing contamination risks.

The Impact of Reusable Garments

Reusable garments are often favored for their cost-effectiveness and environmental benefits. However, their effectiveness can diminish over time due to repeated laundering and sterilization. Each cleaning cycle can alter the physical properties of the garments, potentially compromising their functionality and protective capabilities.

To address these concerns, a study conducted by DuPont examined the performance of reusable cleanroom garments after multiple laundering and gamma radiation (sterilization) cycles. The study aimed to provide insights into how these garments hold up over time and when they should be retired from use.

Study Methodology

DuPont tested two sets of commercially branded reusable coveralls made of woven polyester with carbon fibers for electrostatic decay properties. The garments underwent 30 cycles of laundering and gamma radiation exposure, with tests conducted at various stages to measure changes in their properties.

Key metrics such as particle shedding, air permeability, and tear strength were evaluated to determine how well the garments maintained their protective, durable, and comfortable qualities throughout their lifecycle.

Key Findings

  1. Protection:
    • The primary function of cleanroom garments is to protect against contamination. The study found that particle shedding increased after 25 cycles of laundering and gamma radiation, indicating a decline in the garments’ ability to contain particles.
    • Hydrostatic head tests showed that the fabric’s resistance to water penetration decreased over time, which is critical for garments that protect against incidental aqueous splashes.

2. Durability:

  • Trapezoidal tear strength tests revealed decreased garment durability with increasing laundering and gamma radiation cycles. This decrease in tear strength indicates that the reusable garments become more susceptible over time to physical damage, such as tearing, which can compromise their protective function.

3. Comfort:

  • Air permeability tests indicated increased fabric breathability over time, which might improve worker comfort. However, this came at the cost of reduced barrier performance, highlighting a trade-off between comfort and protection.


Based on the study’s findings, several recommendations were made for the effective use and management of reusable cleanroom garments:

  • Monitor Performance Throughout the Lifecycle: Regularly test garments to ensure they continue to meet protective standards, not just when they are new.
  • Establish End-of-Life Criteria: Develop clear guidelines for when to retire garments based on their performance data, not just their appearance.
  • Consider the Specific Needs of Your Cleanroom: Different environments may require different levels of protection, so tailor your garment monitoring and replacement protocols accordingly.


Choosing between single-use and reusable sterile garments in cleanrooms involves careful consideration of their performance over time. While reusable garments offer economic and environmental benefits, their protective capabilities can degrade with repeated laundering and sterilization cycles. By implementing rigorous testing and monitoring protocols, cleanroom operators can ensure that their garments continue to provide the necessary protection, thereby reducing the risk of contamination.

Please refer to DuPont’s guide To Reuse or Not to Reuse – A Life Cycle Assessment of Reusable Garment Properties for more detailed information and specific data from the DuPont study.

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