Extending the Life of Workwear and PPE
Taking care of workwear is essential if you want it to retain its protective properties and last for as long as possible. By choosing quality garments, following the manufacturer’s maintenance instructions, storing correctly, and repairing damage, you can extend the life of your uniform and PPE significantly. Not only will this save costs on buying new clothing so often, it will also result in fewer items potentially being sent to landfill. We’ve collected our top tips on getting the most wear and performance out of your workwear.
Buying for longevity
When purchasing new workwear, quality and durability should be a main consideration alongside budget. It is more cost effective in the long run to invest in well-made products that are up to the job, than to opt for lower quality items that may get thrown away after a short time. Ensuring that you select the most appropriate clothing to begin with is crucial to securing a long lifespan.
This also includes selecting the right garment sizes, so you don’t run the risk of clothing being replaced without ever being worn. If staff are made to wear ill-fitting uniform, they are more likely to discard it as “worn out” sooner than necessary in order to replace it with garments in the right size.
In some cases it can be a good idea to keep a stock of disposable clothing, such as single-use coveralls, so the workwear underneath can be protected from becoming soiled when messy work is being carried out.
Regular exposure to oil, grease and dust can seriously impair the protective features of workwear. This means that frequent washing of these garments is essential.
Before washing clothing, always check the care label and the manufacturer’s washing instructions, as different materials and garments require a different approach. Close all zips, undo buttons, check pockets for objects, and flatten out collars and cuffs. It’s also recommended to turn garments inside out to reduce the likelihood of abrasion or fading on the outside.
Choosing a suitable detergent is crucial to maintaining the quality of workwear. Non-biological detergent is best for waterproof and breathable clothing, as biological alternatives can damage these properties.
Hi-vis clothing should be washed separately to prevent dyes from other garments affecting the fabric visibility. Hi-vis garments have a maximum number of washes due of the reflective tape, so be sure to check the care instructions and keep track of how many washes you have done.
When it comes to the washing itself you will need to choose a suitable wash cycle. Applying too much heat is a common cause of shrinkage and fading, as well as using more energy, so keep washes to 40°C wherever possible. Finally, avoid tumble drying, especially where the washing instructions advise against it. Instead, hang up damp clothing in a warm, dry place.
Checking for damage
Wearers should be encouraged to check for garment wear and tear both before and after use, and report any issues as soon as possible. This will enable any minor damage to be rectified before becoming worse, such as mending tears or replacing lost buttons. It’s often more cost effective to maintain and repair than discard and replace.
For protective clothing and equipment, regular inspections 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 that safety should always be the number one priority over cost-cutting. It is the employer’s responsibility to ensure PPE is maintained properly and in good working order.
For those 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, and Nikwax TX.Direct is available as either wash-in or spray-on, for reviving water repellency and breathability. Depending on usage, it is advised to apply waterproofing treatment every 4-6 months.
Maintaining safety footwear is also important. Similarly to garments, safety footwear should be checked for faults, damage and excessive dirt. It’s easy to forget that footwear needs to be cleaned just as regularly as clothing. Although it may appear harmless, a build-up of dirt will impact performance and reduce the lifespan. 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 is recommended to retain leather’s suppleness and performance.
Store uniform in a cool, dry, clean area with enough space to hang wet garments that need drying. If damp clothes are left folded or screwed up, the fabric is at risk of deteriorating or rotting.
Clothing should never be stored in direct sunlight and other sources of UV, or near chemicals and oil. Correct storage of workwear reduces the likelihood of colour fading, contamination, and damage from harmful substances, high humidity and heat. All of these can impact wearability, safety and longevity.
For workwear and PPE which is left at work after use each day, allocate a set storage space for employees to return their clothing and equipment. This will make inspections easier and reduce the possibility of losses.
By taking these steps to increase the life of workwear, you are not only ensuring employees remain safe and saving costs, you are contributing to a reduction in landfill. WRAP research shows that increasing the active life of all clothing by nine months would reduce 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!
Although it may not always be possible to increase the life of uniform by as much as nine months, 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 workwear
When it is damaged beyond repair or defective.
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 change of job role means clothing may no longer be of use.
When it’s no longer viable to reuse, please ensure workwear is disposed of responsibly so you are doing your bit to protect our planet.