by , on December 3, 2015

Both home laundry and an industrial laundry service can do an effective job of removing contaminants picked up at work from flame, thermal, and arc rated clothing, but the risk must be managed.

Industrial laundry does a better job at removing stains, especially oil carried stains, but this is only superficial and does not affect flame resistance in studies. Washing at home is acceptable under OSHA and NFPA 70E in most cases.  ASTM even has a home laundry standard for FR/AR garments. If there is a lingering smell of fuel or hydrocarbons from workplace contamination after a first home washing, the company should consider industrial laundering or a special cleaning if the contamination is not common to the workplace (say from a spraying with hydraulic fluid in a hose burst event). Other tips that e-Hazard electrical safety training instructors and ArcWear arc flash garment test consultants encourage are to follow the instructions for care on the label from the manufacturer, check with the manufacturers website for special cleaning instructions, use the appropriate detergent, stay away from fabric softeners both in the washer and dryer, and do not use chlorine bleach.  Some materials also recommend against using non-chlorine bleaches too.

Certain chemicals, very rare ones, were deemed too dangerous to take home, and clothing contaminated with those chemicals require industrial laundering.

Most contaminants which are industrially laundered are done for convenience of the worker, to decrease company liability in the event that the chemical were to be added to the list or just for “safety’s sake”.  Many contaminants must be removed frequently from worker’s clothing to prevent a negative effect on flame resistance.  Most notably, flammable contaminants must be thoroughly cleaned from arc rated, flame resistant garments to maintain their flame resistance. Providing a coverall to be kept in the “back of the truck” which never gets washed is a hazard.  Garments should be washed daily or anytime they are soiled.  Providing daily wear adequate so that clean garments can be worn every day is the best practice.

Be sure this type of information is used in your training for arc flash and flash fire.  If workers are not trained and the cleaning process risk managed, it can result in a loss of life or an OSHA fine.

For assistance in managing the cleaning process risk, contact your industrial laundry or ArcWear for testing options to assess any suspect garments with textile testing by experts in the standards for arc flash and flash fire.

NIOSH Study

NIOSH studied clothing contamination of workers’ homes by hazardous contaminants that were brought home from work. Two common ways people bring contaminants home is on their work clothes and on their exposed skin. In their report, NIOSH provides practical tips on keeping contaminants away from home and family, like changing out of work clothes at work and allowing the employer to launder them. If laundering at home is your method of choice or is a requirement by your employer, the report advises workers to launder and store work clothes separately from family laundry. The chemicals on the list from the NIOSH Pocket Guide which would not allow home laundry are very rare and not in most work places but this must be determined to assure chemical contamination does not affect a worker’s family.

ArcWear Arc Flash Testing Studies and Garment Evaluations

ArcWear published a study for the Ontario Electrical Safety Authority Mining Division which has been useful for the industry on this subject entitled “Study of effects of mining industry contaminations on protective properties of arc rated clothing using ASTM F1959“.
In 2016, ArcWear will also publish a study in ASTM F23 on the long term effect of chlorine bleach and non-chlorine bleach and fabric softener on an FR cotton in home laundering. We have tested garments for many years home laundered and never found a failing garment in a home laundry situation but the new study shows that the color does not wash out as quickly as the flame resistance.  With 100 washes using common chlorine bleach the fabric tested was not flame resistant under normal laundry conditions. So training workers on proper ways to launder garments at home is the company’s responsibility.  OSHA in the new 1910.269 places this responsibility on the employer in specific language but it is not insurmountable.  Fabric manufacturers and ISO accredited textile labs (like ArcWear Garment Auditing) can offer inexpensive small scale testing to determine effectiveness of a company’s laundry policy. Home laundering and Industrial laundering is not something to fear, but the risk has to be managed with control and training and, if necessary, testing.

For more information on contamination in AR clothing, read “Addressing Comfort and Contamination in Arc-Rated Clothing,” about that study in IP Magazine Digest.

Prevention is Better Than the Cure

Prevention is the best strategy in protecting family members from contaminants. Once the contaminants are at home, normal housecleaning and laundry methods cannot always be relied on to get rid of them. Decontamination may even increase the chance of spreading contaminants through the air when cleaning. Those methods include vacuuming, laundering, shampooing, airing, and methods for cleaning surfaces.

For more information on the standards that determine how to care for flame, thermal, and arc rated PPE, refer to the following ASTM and NIOSH guides.

Standard Guide for Home Laundering Care and Maintenance of Flame, Thermal and Arc Resistant Clothing – ASTM F2757

Standard Guide for Industrial Laundering of Flame, Thermal, and Arc Resistant Clothing – ASTM F1449

NIOSH Pocket Guide for Chemical Hazards (See this guide for the limited specific chemicals which cannot be allowed to go to a home.  They are very few but must be assessed).

NIOSH Guide to Reduce Contamination at Home


Hugh Hoagland
About author:
Hugh Hoagland is the foremost tester of clothing and PPE exposed to electrical arcs and is an arc flash expert. Read more about Hugh.

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