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Over the course of my studies, my lab coat has absorbed a non-negligible amount of different chemicals, some of them nasty organic polymers, some are more insoluble inorganic compounds like $\ce{Cr2O3}$.

Even after washing the lab coat some stains remain. Is there a way to get rid of those, or should I rather buy a new lab coat?

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Messy in the lab are we? :) Most I ever have to deal with is coffee spills. – LordStryker May 2 '14 at 15:47
@LordStryker ... the perks of being in the theory department. Well, on the downside, goodbye ether... – Martin - マーチン May 2 '14 at 16:07
Well, I only use my lab coat for my chemistry olympiads duties. And it really would make a better impression on the students if I didn't walk around looking like a hobo in a lab coat ;) – tschoppi May 2 '14 at 16:18
I think that you have have already answered your question in your last comment: If you have to wear it as a supervisor, you want a new, fresh and clean coat. The multi-coloured undergrad rag with holes from sulfuric acid spills and dirty areas on the butt - students typically wipe their hands there - will not leave the best impression ;) – Klaus Warzecha May 2 '14 at 17:08
Why do you want a clean lab coat? Having a coat covered in stains, and full of holes, indicates that you've been doing real chemistry. – Simon B May 2 '14 at 22:56
up vote 19 down vote accepted

A lab coat will eventually get dirty, that's why it is a good idea to wear it. I had a lot of students complaining about the condition of their coat and they asked me if they could just wash it in the washing machine. My answer was always no.

As far as I remember - I am a theoretician now - a labcoat costs much less than a pair of trousers and a T-shirt. It should be renewed annually and disposed according to the norms how you would dispose an unknown chemical. You never know where the chemicals incorporated in your coat will end up, so dispose them as safe as you can.

In some countries it is required by the employer to provide equipment like that and taking care of either cleaning or disposing it eventually. (In Germany that should be the case.) Wear it as a disposable layer of protection and please - for the safety of the environment and yourself - do never ever put it in a normal washing machine again.

As an additional note, if you wash it in the same washer like your normal clothes, how can you assure that it will not end up in your everyday clothes? I can imagine, that having chromium whatever in my underwear would not make me feel alright.

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Everything soluble will get diluted into oblivion, and I believe in the Swiss sewage treating plants. ;) And actually, I had to pay quite a bit for my lab coat. It was about as expensive as a pair of jeans... – tschoppi May 2 '14 at 16:22
I gird my loins with chromium all the time. Its fantastic! – LordStryker May 2 '14 at 16:54
@tschoppi For heaven's sake man, it's only 17 dollars! – Superbest May 2 '14 at 20:38
It's a bad idea to not wash a lab coat. You wash your fingers, hair, glassware etc., but want to wear a coat that inevitably gets contaminated with something for a year? And i don't just mean obvious colourful spills. Have your head of lab organise the washing, by all means, but if that's not possible: Put it in a cotton bag, carry that to your home washing machine, put it in there yourself, just the coat, and let it run at 90°C. And then find yourself a better workplace. – Karl Sep 6 '15 at 12:54
Well, suit yourself. I'm pretty sure that won't contaminate my washing machine, because I'm a chemist and know how detergents work. If other people neglect my safety, I rather ensure it myself instead. – Karl Sep 7 '15 at 8:56

Lab coats, like other forms of PPE, are supposed to provide a final barrier of protection, for when all other risk mitigation strategies have failed. They are not just an expensive form of fancy cooking apron. If you are getting spills on your lab coat, you should take this as an opportunity to re-examine your laboratory techniques to try to establish why this is happening.

Contamination (including wiping hands) on lab coats should be treated at the time of incident, and contaminated lab coats should not be removed from the laboratory, unless in a contaminated laundry or waste container. Most workplaces will have a well defined plan for laundering lab coats, and strict guidelines for how often this should be done. You can search for just how common this is.

Good lab coats can be expensive, but think of them a little like fire extinguishers. Most days in the lab, you shouldn't even need one. However, you want to make sure that when you DO need them, they will work properly and do the job they are designed for. Regular laundering of a non-contaminated lab coat will keep it in top condition, but once contaminated with hazardous chemicals that cannot be safely neutralized, they should then be replaced.

So, the answer to your question is: no, you should not attempt to launder your lab coat. Buy a new one.

And a final 2 cents worth: Dirty lab coats are not a badge of honour; they are a sign of a sloppy chemist.

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Stanford Med School outpatient areas and research labs intermingle. Two Chem grad students appear with rabbit carriers and bloody stuff in clear bags. 6 feet tall and bald but for a red ruff of hair; scraggly beard and shoulder-length ponytail. Both lab coats are disasters. Patients stare with bulging eyes. We cured more people than Lourdes. – Uncle Al May 3 '14 at 20:07

You should never wash your own lab coat. That defeats the whole purpose of lab coats: separating yourself from the potentially hazardous chemicals you work with.

But your employer may have a program for laundering lab coats. My university has a program for safely and properly laundering lab coats. This way you can keep it reasonably clean until replacement.

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Use or discard. There is no "clean." DuPont Teflon Advanced or an old can of perfluoroctanesulfonate Scotchguard for the new lab coat? Classic Scotchguard, classic Scotchguard

An eaten lab coat decorated with holes, stains, and blackened smears of stopcock grease along the sides is a badge of honor. You keep a pressed new one aside for when hominims in suits visit (JAFOs). Formal occasions demand the Black Lab Coat. They cannot be purchased. As with light sabers, you must make your own. Given the potential toxicity of aniline black, one recommends starting with a new 100% cottom lab coat washed (remove sizing) and double rinsed. Then, Procion MX and/or Cibacon F reactive blacks (and lots of non-iodized salt).
If you are a polyester sort of fellow, Foron Brilliant Blue disperse dyes.

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Polyester labcoat sounds to me like 'among the top ten worst ideas'. – Martin - マーチン May 2 '14 at 16:09
A polyester lab coat is a warning to others, yes. it melts onto you. – Uncle Al May 2 '14 at 17:20

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