Originally published on 19th September 2018
Updated 20th January 2020
Extending the Life of Workwear and PPE
Providing appropriate workwear and PPE for staff can be a significant outlay for any business. So make your investment as cost-effective as possible by carefully maintaining workwear, so it retains its protective properties, comfort, appearance and performance for longer.
Diligent workwear maintenance can significantly extend the life of garments, making replacement orders less frequent and saving your business money. By choosing quality clothing and equipment, following the manufacturer’s maintenance instructions, storing workwear correctly — and repairing damage as soon as it occurs — you can significantly extend the life of your uniform and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
Not only will this save costs on buying new clothes so often, but it will also result in sending fewer items to landfill. We’ve collected our top tips on getting the most wear and performance out of your workwear.
Buying Workwear for Longevity
When purchasing new workwear, the initial cost should not be the only consideration — quality and durability are important factors too. It is more cost-effective in the long run to invest in well-made products that are up to the job than lower quality items — which may get thrown away after a short time. Poor quality items will not have a long lifespan — no matter how much time you devote to workwear care. Choosing the most appropriate workwear is key to ensuring its longevity.
Careful selection of workwear also includes selecting the right garment sizes. If staff are made to wear an ill-fitting uniform, they are more likely to discard it as “worn out” sooner than necessary — so they can replace it with garments in the right size.
Intelligent Washing for Optimum Workwear Care
Regular exposure to oil, grease and dust can seriously impair the protective features of workwear. This means frequent washing of these garments is essential.
Before washing clothing, always check the care label and the manufacturer’s instructions. Materials are not all made equal and they will respond differently to washing treatments and processes. To minimise garment stress during washing, close all zips, undo buttons, check pockets for objects and flatten out collars and cuffs. Turn garments inside out to reduce the likelihood of abrasion or fading on the outside.
Choosing a suitable detergent is a crucial element of effective workwear and PPE care and maintenance. Non-biological detergent is best for waterproof and breathable clothing, as biological alternatives can damage these properties.
Hi-visibility clothing should be washed separately to prevent dyes from other garments affecting fabric visibility. Hi-vis garments have a maximum number of washes due to the reflective tape. Be sure to check the care instructions and keep track of the number of times the garment is washed.
Once you have made all the necessary preparations before laundering clothing, you will need to choose a suitable wash cycle. Applying too much heat is a common cause of shrinkage and fading. Hot washes also use more energy, so keep washes to 40°C wherever possible. Finally, avoid tumble drying, especially where the washing instructions advise against it. Instead, for effective workwear maintenance, hang up damp clothing in a warm, dry place away from direct sunlight.
Check Workwear and PPE for Damage
Wearers should be encouraged to check for garment and equipment wear and tear — both before and after use — and to report any issues as soon as possible. This is especially important for those who use PPE, to rectify minor damage before the item becomes irreparable. Repairs might include mending tears or replacing lost buttons. It’s usually far more cost-effective to maintain and repair garments than to discard and replace them.
For effective PPE care and maintenance, regularly inspect garments for faults and performance tests should be carried out by a trained member of staff — preferably someone who is fully up to date with PPE legislation. Remember, safety should always be the number one priority over cost-cutting. It is the employer’s responsibility to maintain PPE properly and ensure it is in good working order.
Workwear and PPE Maintenance
For employees working outdoors in wet weather conditions, maintaining the waterproofness of workwear is essential for comfort and productivity. When washing these garments, you should use gentle cleaners, so the waterproof membranes and coatings are not damaged. After washing, re-waterproofing outdoor trousers and jackets will maintain their performance and increase longevity. Nikwax Tech Wash is a popular wash-in cleaner for waterproof clothing. Nikwax TX Direct can revive water repellency and breathability and is available to wash-in or spray-on. Depending on usage, it is advised to apply waterproofing treatment every 4-6 months.
Maintaining safety footwear is also important. Check safety shoes and boots regularly checked for faults, damage and excessive dirt. It’s easy to forget footwear needs to be cleaned just as frequently as clothing. Although it may appear harmless, a build-up of dirt will impact performance and reduce the lifespan of footwear. Leather boots, in particular, will need careful attention. They should be cleaned and treated regularly and brushed with a shoe polishing brush to remove dust and debris. Leather food and water repellent spray are recommended to retain leather’s suppleness and performance.
Storing Workwear and PPE Correctly
Store uniform in a dry, clean area with enough space to hang wet garments which need drying. If damp clothes are left folded or screwed up, the fabric is at risk of deteriorating or rotting.
Never store clothing in direct sunlight or leave garments exposed to other sources of UV light. Also, avoid keeping workwear near chemicals, oil or other hazardous substances. Correct storage of workwear reduces the likelihood of colour fading, contamination and damage from harmful substances, high humidity, heat and light. All of these can impact wearability, safety and longevity.
For workwear and PPE left at work after use each day, allocate storage space for employees to return their clothing and equipment. This will make inspections easier and reduce the possibility of losses.
Storing is an important part of workwear care, so make sure you set expectations for your employees, provide guidelines on proper care of clothing — and mark storage areas clearly.
Workwear Care Reduces Your Environmental Impact
By taking these steps to increase the life of workwear, you ensure employees remain safe, save costs — and contribute to a reduction in landfill. WRAP research shows increasing the active life of all clothing by nine months reduces the annual carbon, water and waste footprints of UK clothing by 20-30% each, and save £5 billion. Selecting high-quality garments and maintaining their performance through simple actions can have a highly beneficial impact on the environment!
It may not always be possible to increase the life of uniform by as much as nine months. But any effort to reduce the number of garments being thrown away each year will reduce the overall footprint of the clothing industry.
When to Replace Your PPE and Workwear
Despite all your best efforts for maintenance of PPE and workwear, it will eventually need replacing and it is important to know when to do so. Using workwear and PPE after its protective properties have diminished will mean it is no longer provides the necessary level of protection — and it is therefore not compliant with PPE regulations. You should replace workwear:
When it is defective or damaged beyond repair
When it has been heavily soiled and cleaning no longer restores it
When it has exceeded its shelf life (applies to many items of PPE)
Sometimes a company decision such as a rebrand, updated workplace requirements or a change of job role means clothing may no longer be of use.
When it’s no longer viable to reuse, please ensure you dispose of workwear responsibly, so you are doing your bit to protect our planet.
Has your workwear and protective clothing seen better days? Is it time to order some replacement garments? Take a look at our extensive range of corporate clothing, outdoor workwear, PPE and high visibility clothing. Can’t see what you’re looking for? Contact us and one of our friendly team will be happy to help.