Washing White Lab Coats

White lab coat being rubbed together with laundry detergent bottle on side

The Spruce / Sarah Lee

Whether you are still in training or work in a hospital, research lab, or medical facility, you know the importance of cleaning and disinfecting your scrubs, but you also need to know how to care for your white lab coat. The coats are expensive, and you'll want them to last as long as possible.

How to Wash White Lab Coats

Working with patients or in a lab can be messy, and stains happen. The key to keeping a lab coat clean and white is to treat the stains as soon as possible. Regular washing will help to remove stains as well as body oil and soil. It is important to have several clean coats handy and rotate them throughout the week.

Always wash the white items separately from colors and use a heavy-duty detergent (Persil and Tide are top-rated detergents) and the hottest water recommended on the care label. Pretreat, any stains with an enzyme-based stain remover or a bit of the liquid detergent, worked directly into heavily soiled areas. Allow the stain remover to work on the fabric for at least 15 minutes before washing.

Many in the medical profession choose to wear 100 percent cotton lab coats. There is no such thing as wrinkle-free 100 percent cotton lab coats so plan to use an iron or take the coat to a professional cleaner. Drying a cotton lab coat on the lowest heat tumble dry setting on your dryer and removing the coat while still slightly damp will lessen wrinkles. Ironing while slightly damp will also be easier.

Since washing lab coats may not happen immediately after every wearing, presoaking will make stain removal easier. Fill a large sink or non-metal bucket with a mixture of warm water and oxygen-based bleach. Follow product directions as to how much to use per gallon of water. Completely submerge the white coats and allow to soak until it's time to wash.

Check the coats for stains before drying. If stains remain, do not toss in the dryer. They will need to be treated again with stain remover and rewashed.

Drying Tip

Always check freshly washed coats for remaining stains before tossing in the dryer. The high heat of the dryer will set the stains and make them much more difficult to remove.

How to Remove Stains From White Lab Coats

Stains can be mayo from your sandwich or work-related stains. If you don't see the stain listed, follow the stain removal tips for specific stains.

  • Blood: Begin with a soak in COLD water. Hot water will set the blood stains and make them very hard to remove. Never use plain soap. Instead, after flushing as much of the blood as possible from the fabric fibers (use a steady stream of cold water through the fabric), rub in a bit of enzyme-based heavy duty laundry detergent into the stain. Let it sit for five or ten minutes and then wash as usual.
  • Vomit, Urine, and Feces: Protein stains that should be treated first with COLD water. Remove any solid matter with a tongue depressor or edge of a disposable spoon or knife. Never rub with a cloth because that pushed the stain deeper into the fabric. Again, flush with a steady stream of cold water and treat with the heavy duty detergent before washing. Add 1/2 cup baking soda to the wash water to help reduce odor.
  • Ointment: Oil-based stains require warm or hot water to remove. Remove any solids with a dull edge tool—no rubbing. Apply a bit of heavy-duty detergent and let it work for five to ten minutes. Then wash in hot water.
  • Liquid Medications: It is the dye added to these meds that cause a problem. Mix a solution of oxygen-based bleach (OxiClean or Tide Oxi are brand names) and cool water. Submerge the stained coat and allow it to soak at least one hour—longer is better, up to eight hours. This will remove the dye and is safe for fabrics. Wash as usual.
  • Iodine: Begin by soaking the stain in warm water (about 90 degrees) with an enzyme-based detergent heavy duty detergent for about 20 minutes. Cold water is not effective in soaking the stain. Then wash as usual in warm water with detergent and oxygen-based bleach to remove the remaining discoloration.
Oxygen-based bleach poured into blue bucket of water with white lab coat

The Spruce / Sarah Lee

How to Bring Back the White

Even on 100 percent cotton coats, it is better to skip using chlorine bleach to remove stains or whiten. Chlorine bleach can ruin the monogram on a coat, damage fibers, cause coat buttons to yellow and the fabric to become dingier.

To restore the whiteness on cotton or polyester coats, fill a washer or wash sink with warm water. Add 1 cup of oxygen-based bleach (OxiClean, Tide Oxi or Nellie's Natural Oxygen Brightener are brand names) and submerge the coats. Allow them to soak for 24 hours. Then wash as usual with a heavy duty detergent in warm or hot water. During the rinse cycle, add one cup of white distilled vinegar to help rinse away any detergent residue that clings to the fabric and causes it to look dingy. If you have hard water in your area, the white vinegar is a must in the rinse cycle to help remove the detergent and soil that redeposits on whites.

Another tip to help brighten whites is to use laundry bluing. The addition of this product restores whiteness by increasing the light reflection from the fibers.

If the coats are older and need a dramatic whitening boost, then purchase Rit Color Remover and follow the directions on the package to help remove dinginess and greying.

These tips are safe to use on coats made from cotton, synthetic, or cotton/polyester blend fabrics.

Laundry bluing added to glass mason jar of water to brighten white lab coat

The Spruce / Sarah Lee