Which Type of Gown is Right For You?

If you’ve watched TV during the COVID-19 pandemic, chances are you’ve seen healthcare workers garbed in different types of gowns. Different fits, different materials, different thicknesses—it seems like there’s a gown for nearly everything.

We’ve curated this article of all the gowns to give you the low-down on what and why they’re used. There’s a gown for practically each branch of medicine, and we hope that after reading this, you’ll have a better idea of which one is better for you.

 

First, What Are You Protecting Against?

Gowns are worn primarily for protection, but what you’re protecting yourself plays a huge role in the gown itself. Some gowns may have different names or fits, but the bottom line is that whatever they’re protecting against determines its function.

Though it may seem that in order to offer more protection, gowns should be made of thicker material. But that’s not always the case—in order to pass tests by Association of the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI), gowns must simply block against simulated fluids. More protective gowns are not necessarily thicker, but have a tighter weave of fabric or a more liquid-resistant coating.

According to the AAMI minimal risk is the lightest standard, at Level 1. These are the thinnest gowns, and only used by visitors in hospitals or as a light barrier. They’re often made of thin cotton or polypropylene at 25 GSM, making them lightweight and breathable, and preferable if the situation permits.

Low risk is the next standard, or Level 2. These gowns are a slightly thicker material at 30 GSM, and are designed to guard the wearer from possibly contagious fluids or specimens. These are typically worn in pathology labs, blood draws, or in the Intensive Care Units (ICU) in some cases. They’re often the same thickness as minimal risk gowns, but have a special plastic coating that’s more resistant to liquid penetration.

  Protects against: splatter, small amounts of fluid penetration

Level 3 moderate risk gowns are an even thicker material, at 43 GSM. They are used in instances where a lot of blood may be encountered, such as by emergency medical technicians (EMTs),, or in trauma or emergency rooms. Gowns of this risk level may also be worn with face shields, and have reinforced sleeve cuffs that seal with gloves. This level of protection is usually worn by surgeons in the operating room, who may be exposed to fluid for a prolonged period of time.

Protects against: larger amounts of fluid penetration and soaking

High risk gowns, Level 4, are reserved for the most hazardous scenarios. They’re the thickest, at 63 GSM, and often have a special laminated coating that varies with each manufacturer. They’re used to protect against infectious pathogens, or in surgery that may exposure the wearer to contagious body fluids. This class of medical gown faces the most rigorous rigorous tests, and were the gold standard for protection against COVID-19.

Protects against: All fluid penetration and viruses for up to 1 hour  

 

AAMI Risk Level

GSM

Protection

Usage

Minimal

25

Fluid splatter

Visitors, Lab

Low

30

Small fluid penetrance

Pathology, ICU

Moderate

43

Larger fluid penetrance and soaking

Surgery, Emergency Room, EMTs, Trauma

High

63

All fluid penetrance and viruses for at 1 hour

Surgery, infectious disease

 

The Shapes of Medical Gowns

With the thicknesses and degrees of protections in mind, let’s take a look at the shapes of medical gowns in the industry. There are two mainstream ones.

Surgical gowns, pictured in Figure 1, are the standard shape of gown. The name is confusing because they may not always be worn in the operating room, but the level of protection is still the same. This type of gown shields the wear’s front and arms; it may be thicker depending on whether it’s worn in an ICU or higher-risk setting.

Surgical isolation gowns in Figure 2 are a more protective garment. As you can see, the main difference is that these gowns also cover the wearer’s back, and often include a sash or tie to fasten them around the person. Like regular surgical gowns, isolation gowns may vary in the thickness of the material. These are used in more emergent or hazardous scenarios, like COVID units or trauma bays. 

There are many different thicknesses and styles of medical gowns, each with their own purpose and function. We hope that after reading this, you have a better understanding of the different risk-protection levels for each gown, and surgical versus surgical isolation gowns, and a better insight of which one is better for your needs.