How dyeing of workwear is offering healthcare new possibilities in linen management

Here’s what Paul Hamilton, technical director of Regenex, wrote recently for Tomorrow’s Care magazine about an emerging trend in garment coloration and re-coloration – which is becoming a game changer for healthcare organisations and their laundries.

As a rule, staff uniforms and medical scrubs are not dyed as finished pieces. They are made with fabric in the required colour and supplied, ready to wear.

However, times are changing and disruptions to supply chains caused by the pandemic and Brexit, coupled with organisations’ ever-increasing low carbon aspirations, mean that many managers are looking to other options.

This fresh approach covers both the procurement of the best workwear as well as efforts to make it last as long as possible – given the environmental impact of every new garment manufactured and each piece of textile waste.

Uncertainty in supply and demand

Relatively recently, UK customers would routinely order clothing from East Asia and other global manufacturing locations but fluctuations in demand and disruptions in supply mean the right items in the correct colour are not always available as quickly as are required.

This means hospitals and other healthcare settings have been more creative in their procurement when immediate needs cannot be met, for example buying medical scrubs in white, to be dyed the desired shade in the UK and delivered on time and still on budget.

New stock isn’t the only material heading to specialist colourists – there are benefits to dyeing or re-dyeing part-worn items to obtain more wear from them, especially given that uniforms are more expensive than most commercial linen.

A starting point for discussion

Though dyeing is still an under-utilised solution – discussed at length in Regenex’s new white paper, Don’t Dump It Dye It: Getting the most out of linen with coloration – pieces are increasingly being appraised for dyeing and re-dyeing.

Clothing could include white lab coats, perhaps a little greying or stained, but otherwise serviceable, being coloured blue or brown for engineering or estates personnel, or faded polycotton uniforms being topped up to their original rich shade. Common marks such as ink or iodine can be lifted or reduced as part of this process, prior to the rejuvenation of colour.

The possibilities are myriad – and of course savvy purchasing and circulation of such items has the dual benefit of both costs and carbon. Dyeing or re-dyeing apparel is far more cost effective than buying new, and can increase its lifespan of up to 80%.

Changing habits in linen management

In these times of austerity, further impacted by Brexit and latterly the pandemic, it has never been more important for the sector to save money and adopt thriftier habits where possible.

However, the bigger prize for making changes and pursuing such ingenious solutions is in relation to sustainability. As large, carbon-hungry entities, healthcare organisations must cut their emissions where they can.

Exemplary linen management is an easier place to be able to make, and demonstrate, a significant difference than, say, addressing the huge array of essential, single-use items in medical settings.

Onward towards a greener sector

Robust environmental policies are now absolutely central to organisational culture – gone are the days when this was an add-on, an afterthought or a ‘nice to have where possible’.

And while standards may have understandably slipped during the ravages of Covid, healthcare organisations are now regrouping, rebuilding, and getting back on track with low carbon strategies, often ramping them up in response to external pressures, as well as internal desires to set and meet new targets.

So, in all, the dyeing and re-dyeing of workwear has all sorts of positive potential that’s only just starting to be explored. We can expect to see this solution put to more use as world markets continue to be uncertain, and the sector strives to be greener still.


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