Anti-Microbial Scrubs: Do They Deliver On Their Promise?


The idea of anti-microbial scrubs is awesome right? After all, what healthcare worker wouldn’t want scrubs that could help fight the spread of germs and infection? It’s a no-brainer, right? Unfortunately, the answer is a bit more complicated.

Here are a few questions you should consider before investing in a set of anti-microbial scrubs:

  • Are anti-microbial scrubs effective?

While makers of anti-bacteria scrubs tend to tout the benefits of their products, the jury is still out. As of yet, there isn’t much clinical data on the subject. Some studies suggest they could be effective. Other studies say just the opposite. Complicating matters, different manufacturers use different ingredients or processes to infuse their scrubs with anti-bacterial properties. Some coat their garments with an anti-microbial emulsion. Others infuse their fabric with silver nanoparticles or use their own proprietary methods. So effectiveness may differ based on the anti-bacterial agent and manufacturing process.

One recent clinical study of nurses working in the ICU at Duke University Hospital set out to see if anti-microbial scrubs really made a difference. The study tested two different types of anti-microbial scrubs vs. standard cotton/poly scrubs. The result? The study did not find any significant decrease in clothing contamination when nurses wore anti-microbial scrubs vs. standard scrubs.

  • Are anti-microbial scrubs safe for humans and the environment?

After the pushback against anti-bacteria soaps and lotions and the over-prescription of antibiotics, similar concerns have been raised about anti-microbial clothing. Could they be doing more harm than good? Could they contribute to the rise of “superbugs” that are more resistant than other strains of bacteria?

In terms of the environment, anti-microbial ingredients, such as silver nanoparticles, have been shown to leach into wastewater during repeat washing. The amount of particles released during washing is generally believed to be negligible, but some scientists have expressed concern that the remaining silver will leach out over time when the clothes are discarded in landfills.

  • Are anti-microbial scrubs worth paying a premium for?

The addition of anti-microbial agents can add to the manufacturing costs of the scrubs, which are typically passed along to consumers. Many consumers are willing to pay a premium for this layer of protection. Yet anti-microbial coatings don’t always stand up to repeat washing. So sometimes the potential benefit may be limited to the first few times you wear the garment or as some studies suggest, non-existent.

Today, a number of manufacturers offer anti-microbial scrubs. However, koi isn’t one of them. “Internally, we’ve had numerous discussions about adding anti-microbial agents to our scrubs, and many customers have asked us about them” said koi founder Kathy Peterson. “But we still have concerns about both the effectiveness of anti-microbial scrubs and the potential environment impact. So we’ve made a conscious decision not to offer them at this time.”

Shop koi Designer Scrubs >

Regardless, there are still plenty of options for consumers who are interested in anti-microbial scrubs. When considering the purchase of these types of scrubs, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons. And to do some research so that you can make an informed choice. After all, the decision to buy anti-microbial scrubs may not be as simple as you originally thought.



Nurses’ Scrubs Carry Bad Bacteria
by Liz Highleyman, Contributing Writer, MedPage Today
October 28, 2016
The Antiseptic Scrub Contamination and Transmission (ASCOT) Trial: a 3-Arm Cluster-Randomized Controlled Crossover Trial to Determine the Impact of Antiseptic-Impregnated Scrubs on Healthcare Worker Contamination
by Deverick Anderson, MD, et al, IDWeek 2016; Abstract 1351
October 28, 2016
Bacterial contamination of healthcare workers’ uniforms: a random controlled trial of antimicrobial scrubs
by M. Burden, MD, et al, Journal of Hospital Medicine
July 2013
Germ-Resistant Clothes: Pick or Pass?
by Leah Zerbe and PREVENTION
March 11, 2012
Antimicrobials in Hospital Furnishings: Do They Help Reduce Healthcare-Associated Infections?
by Ted Schettler, MD, MPH
March 2016
The impact of anti-odor clothing on the environment
American Chemical Society Weekly PressPac
March 30, 2016
6 Reasons Why You Should Stop Using Anti-Bacterial Soaps
by Diane Vukovich, EcoWatch
July 6, 2016