The Ultimate Guide to Scrub Fabrics 

Medical scrubs are a vital piece of workwear for healthcare professionals, and are often worn for extended periods of time. Understandably, you’re likely to want scrubs which are comfortable, durable and breathable. Yet on top of these factors, there are several different qualities which you might need to consider before buying scrubs for yourself or your staff. These  qualities are often determined by the fabric from which your scrubs are made, as well as the way in which the fibres are woven together. The choice of fibre and weave can impact how your scrubs look and feel, as well as the care they require. Given the hours that the wearer can spend working professionally, as well as in front of your washing machine, it’s a good idea to know what you’re in for before you commit to new scrubs. 

Here, in the ultimate guide to scrub fabrics, we’ll explain the different types of fibres commonly used to make high-quality scrub fabrics, as well as some of the common methods used for weaving them together. 

Fibres and Fabrics 

Cotton

Cotton is a common, organic fibre that’s been used to produce natural fabric for thousands of years. In many ways, it’s ideal for workwear, as it can be used to produce a fabric which is lightweight, soft, durable and moisture-wicking. This makes it particularly ideal as a scrub fabric, as it can be worn for long periods whilst keeping you cool and sweat-free. In colder conditions, scrub tops made from cotton fabric, paired with an undershirt such as the Cherokee Undershirt Black Tee can be used to guarantee you comfort throughout your shift. It can also be used to add softness and breathability to blended fabrics, such as the poly-cotton blend found in the Cherokee Workwear V-neck scrub top. 


Cotton scrubs are also easy to wash, as the material responds well to a range of cleaning methods. It can be washed on cool for lighter soiling, but it’s also resilient in warm water if you’ve picked up some stains. It’s best to dry cotton slowly, however, so line-drying is best to avoid shrinkage.


Polyester 

Polyester is a hugely versatile material, which is used to produce a range of goods including Liquid Crystal Displays, single-use water bottles, and of course, textiles. Polyester is a popular choice for scrubs, as it has several major benefits. It’s incredibly flexible, wrinkle-resistant and quick-drying, which helps healthcare workers to maintain a professional appearance on shift without needing to take on extra ironing duty when they get home. It’s also quick-drying, which can help to mitigate the mess of a busy shift.  Polyester can also be included in blended fabrics to offer these benefits, such as in the Cherokee workwear warm up navy jacket.


Because polyester is a synthetic material, polyester fabric does lack some of the natural benefits of cotton. For example, it can build up static electricity, and is more likely to allow sweat to build up than naturally-wicking cotton. It also has a slightly rough texture, and unless you’re careful during washing, it’s more likely to bleed colours than cotton, and can suffer from pilling. 


Many of these issues can be avoided with proper polyester care, however. Turning polyester clothing inside out can reduce pilling and protect the colour, whilst using a cool cycle combined with fabric softener can reduce the build up of static. Following this guidance, you’ll be left with scrubs which are soft, flexible, clean and durable. 

Spandex 

Often associated with the popular brand-name Lycra, Spandex is a popular synthetic fabric used to produce a wide range of high-performance garments such as cycling shorts, gym wear, leotards and, of course, medical scrubs. Its popularity comes as a result of its impressive lightweight elasticity, which makes it an ideal material for clothing which needs to move quickly and comfortably with an active body. It’s also abrasion resistant, soft on the skin, doesn’t build up static electricity, and retains its shape throughout plenty of use and washes. Also, though it’s not a true wicking fabric, it’s usually sufficiently lightweight to make it breathable. Spandex can also be included in blended fabrics to offer stretch, as is found in the Cherokee Core Stretch Scrub Pants.


In order to keep your spandex clothing in good condition, it’s important to take proper care of your spandex whilst you’re washing it. Spandex benefits from a cool wash, so for especially soiled scrubs, it’s sensible to pre-soak them in detergent the night before. They can then be run on a gentle cool cycle, and dried on the coolest cycle possible, or ideally in the air.  


Rayon 

Rayon is amongst the most versatile of fabrics, as it can be altered to mimic the look and texture of a range of other materials, including silk, cotton and wool. It’s created by using industrial chemicals to purify cellulose fibres taken from organic materials such as wood pulp, and is therefore considered semi-synthetic; a term which expresses the amorphousness of the fabric, and its ability to be transformed to suit varied needs. 


Due to its ability to mimic other materials, it can be used to create flattering and comfortable scrubs and scrub accessories. It’s not especially resilient to long-term wear however, making it ideal for items of clothing which you might rotate through your closet. For example, you might own several  Cherokee Infinity Underscrubs Long Tees, and wear each once a week. 


To get the best out of your rayon scrubs, it’s important to wash them according to the proper guidance. This can vary between items of clothing, depending on how the rayon has been adapted for the garment. In general terms, however, it’s a good idea to pre-soak heavily soiled rayon, wash it by hand, and then air-dry the garment. 


Blends 

Each of these fibres come with their own distinct strengths and advantages. However, they often demonstrate their greatest strengths when combined to create fabric blends. It’s these blends which are most common for making scrubs. 

Poly/cotton blend 

Poly/cotton blends offer the best of both worlds; absorbent and soft like cotton, yet flexible, durable and able to retain shape like polyester. This blend is found in items such as the Cherokee Workwear Unisex Scrub Top, which is made from 65% polyester, and 35% cotton poplin. 


Fully Synthetic Blends 

These items are ideal for maintaining professionalism, as they are virtually wrinkle-free. Polyester, spandex and rayon are able to work together to create flexible, durable and abrasion resistant scrubs, such as the Cherokee trousers which have a 78% poly, 20% rayon and 2% spandex blend. 


In the case of both blended fabric types, it's worth bearing in mind that the properties and required care will vary depending on the exact blend found in each garment. For example, a synthetic blend with a large percentage of rayon may be more prone to wrinkles, but also softer than a poly/spandex blend. In each case, you should turn to the item’s label for specific care instructions. 

Weaves 

During medical training, you have to learn about the different parts of the body. However, nobody would consider your training complete if you didn’t also know how those parts work together to create a healthy whole. The same is true with scrub materials, as knowledge of the different fibres alone is not enough to understand how your garment will look and feel. You must also know about their weave, or the way in which the fibres are combined with one another to produce fabric, in order to really get a sense of the full picture.


Poplin

Poplin is a type of plain weave, which, along with twill and satin, are amongst the most common types of weave. Poplin is characterised by its subtle horizontal lines, which can produce a cording effect on close inspection. It’s widely used for shirts, skirts and raincoats, though it is also a popular choice for scrubs due to its natural resistance to wrinkles and stains, as well as its breathability. Poplin is often produced from cotton or poly/cotton blends. 

Twill

Twill is another of the most common types of weave. Due to twill’s ability to resist stains, combined with its durability, twill is often used for the production of scrubs and other workwear. It’s recognizable by its diagonal lines, which are created by offsetting the warp threads, and which are responsible for the hardiness of this weave. Twill is most commonly made using cotton, polyester, or blends of these two fibres. 

Dobby 

Dobby is a rather special weave, which relies on the use of a special “dobby” attachment to the loom itself. The use of this attachment creates textured patterns which are physically integrated into the fabric. This not only creates a visual and physical texture which is more complex than plain cloth, but it can also help to increase the fabric’s resistance to creases, whilst improving its durability. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that whilst dobby makes a great material for scrubs, you should be cautious about combining dobby with socks. 


Extras 

There’s also one more element which can affect your scrubs. These are the added extras. Keep your eyes peeled for scrubs with anti-microbial or water-resistant coatings. 

If you feel ready to get started, we have a wide range of scrubs available at Medshop. Equally, if you need a bit more help, we have plenty of guidance to help you choose your medical workwear. Articles suggesting the best moisture wicking scrubs, what to wear underneath your scrubs, the best stethoscopes and more are all available on the Medshop Blog. 

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