Students in the University of Kentucky Textile Testing Laboratory are helping develop durable, reusable personal protective equipment (PPE) for health care workers. The lab, part of the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, specializes in testing fabrics and materials for the textile industry to make sure they stand up to proper safety protocols and industry standards. One of the most critical responsibilities is the PPE that health care workers use in their daily jobs.
Although the lab has tested PPE for many years, the pandemic revealed a glaring problem. “Before the pandemic, the majority of all isolation gowns were disposable,” says Elizabeth Easter, a professor in the Department of Retailing and Tourism Management who heads the lab.
There was a limited market for reusable PPE, and research on that market segment was almost nonexistent. Now, student lab technicians prepare and evaluate test pieces and measure their strength to determine the durability and the whiteness index for aesthetics. The lab also tests flame-resistant and arc-rated PPE, including fall protection, arc flash, and flame-resistant clothing, blankets, face protection and gloves.
To date, the researchers have identified at least five different types of reusable gowns that can withstand up to 75 wash cycles.