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Pesticide News

Maintaining personal protective equipment

Personal Protective Equipment and Sprayer

At this time of year, when pesticides are commonly being used, it is important to take the time to properly clean and maintain Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). The following is taken, with little revision, from the national Pesticide Applicator Core Manual first edition and was previously published in the Illinois Pesticide Review newsletter. Some updates and additions from this manual’s second edition have been added to this iteration.   

When you finish an activity in which you are handling pesticides or are exposed to them, remove your personal protective equipment right away. Start by washing the outside of your gloves with detergent and water before removing the rest of your PPE. Wash the outside of other chemical-resistant items before you remove your gloves. This practice helps you avoid contacting the contaminated part of the items while you are removing them, thus keeping the inside surface from becoming contaminated. If any other clothes have pesticides on them, change them also. Determine whether contaminated items should be disposed of or cleaned for reuse.


Disposable PPE items are not designed to be cleaned and reused. Discard them when they become contaminated with pesticides. Place disposable PPE in a separate plastic bag or container prior to disposal.

Chemical-resistant gloves, footwear, and aprons labeled as disposable are designed to be worn only once and then thrown away. These items often are made of thin vinyl, latex, or polyethylene. These inexpensive disposables may be a good choice for brief pesticide-handling activities that require dexterity, as long as the activity does not tear the thin plastic. For example, you might use disposable gloves, shoe covers, and an apron while pouring pesticide into a hopper or tank, cleaning or adjusting a nozzle, or making minor equipment adjustments.

Nonwoven (including coated nonwoven) coveralls and hoods, such as TyvekTM, usually are designed to be disposed of after use. Most are intended to be worn for only one workday. The instructions with some coated nonwoven suits and hoods permit the user to wear them more than once if each use period is short and not much pesticide gets on them. Pay close attention when reusing these items and be ready to change them whenever there are signs pesticides could be getting through the material or the inside surface is contaminated.

Dust/mist masks, prefilters, canisters, filtering and vapor‑removing cartridges, and a few cartridge respirators are disposables. They cannot be cleaned. Be sure to replace these disposable items often.


Some PPE items, such as rubber and plastic suits, gloves, boots, aprons, capes, and headgear, are designed to be cleaned and reused several times. However, do not make the mistake of continuing to use these items when they no longer offer adequate protection. Wash the reusable items thoroughly between uses and inspect them for signs of wear or abrasion. 

Never wash contaminated gloves, boots, respirators, or other PPE in streams, ponds, or other bodies of water. Check for rips and leaks by using the rinse water to form a “balloon” (that is, filling the PPE item with water) and/or by holding the items up to the light. Even tiny holes or thin places can allow large quantities of pesticide to penetrate the material and reach your skin. Discard any PPE item that shows sign of wear.

Even if you do not see any signs of wear, replace reusable chemical-resistant items regularly—the ability of a chemical-resistant material to resist the pesticide decreases each time an item is worn. A good rule is to throw out gloves that have been worn for about 5 to 7 workdays. Extra-heavy-duty gloves, such as those made of butyl or nitrite rubber, may last as long as 10 to 14 days. Glove replacement is a high priority because adequate hand protection greatly reduces the pesticide handler’s chance for exposure. The cost of frequently replacing your gloves is a wise investment. 

Footwear, aprons, headgear, and protective suits may last longer than gloves because they generally receive less exposure to the pesticides and less abrasion from rough surfaces. Replace them regularly and at any sign of wear. Most protective eyewear and respirator bodies, face-pieces, and helmets are designed to be cleaned and reused. These items can last many years if they are of good quality and are maintained correctly.

Launder fabric coveralls and work clothing after each day’s use. Do not attempt to launder clothing made of cotton, polyester, cotton blends, denim, and canvas if these items are drenched or saturated with concentrated (undiluted) pesticides – especially those labeled with the signal word DANGER–POISON, DANGER, or WARNING. Always discard any such contaminated clothing or footwear at a household hazardous waste collection site.

Be sure to clean all reusable PPE items between uses, even if they were worn for only a brief period of exposure. Pesticide residues that remain on PPE are likely to penetrate the material. If you wear that PPE again, pesticide may already be on the inside of the material next to your skin. Also, PPE worn several times between launderings may build up pesticide residues. The residues can reach a level that can harm you, even if you are handling pesticides that are not highly toxic. After cleaning reusable items, place them in a plastic bag or clothing hamper away from your personal clothes and away from the family laundry.

Washing PPE

Wash clothing used while applying pesticides as soon as practical after they are worn, preferably the same day. The longer pesticide residue stays on clothing, the less of it washes out. Washing does not remove all of the pesticide residue; it removes enough so that the clothing is safer to wear.

Always wash pesticide-contaminated items separately from the family laundry. Otherwise, pesticide residues may be transferred to the other laundry and may harm you or your family. Be sure that the people who clean and maintain your PPE and other work clothes know they can be harmed by touching these pesticide-contaminated items. Instruct them to wear gloves and an apron and work in a well-ventilated area, if possible, and avoid inhaling steam from the washer or dryer.

Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning chemical-resistant items. If the manufacturer instructs you to clean the item but gives no detailed instructions, follow the “Procedure for Washing Contaminated PPE” detailed below. Some chemical-resistant items that are not flat, such as gloves, footwear, and coveralls, must be washed twice—once to clean the outside of the item and a second time after turning the item inside out. Some chemical-resistant items, such as heavy‑duty boots and rigid hats or helmets, can be washed by hand using hot water and a heavy-duty liquid detergent.

Use the following procedure for washing non-chemical-resistant items such as cotton, cotton/polyester, denim, canvas; other absorbent materials; and most chemical-resistant items. 

Procedure for Washing Contaminated PPE

  1. Outdoors, shake any dry material from cuffs and pockets and then hang garments to air them out.
  2. Wash only a few items at a time so there is plenty of agitation and water for dilution.
  3. Wash in a washing machine, using hot water for the wash cycle. Set your washer to the highest water level, the longest wash cycle and two rinse cycles. Prerinse items by using a prewash cycle if available. Use heavy-duty liquid detergent.
  4. Use two entire machine cycles to wash items that are moderately to heavily contaminated. (If PPE is too contaminated, bundle it in a plastic bag, label the bag, and take it to a household hazardous waste collection site.)
  5.  Run the washer through at least one additional entire cycle without clothing, using detergent and hot water, to clean the machine before any other laundry is washed.

Hang the washed items to dry, if possible. It is best to let them hang for at least 24 hours in an area with plenty of fresh air. Even after thorough washing, some items still may contain residues. When the items are exposed to clean air and sunlight, most residues move to the surface of the fabric, evaporate, or break down. 

You may wish to buy two or more sets of PPE so you can leave one set airing while wearing the other set. Do not hang items in enclosed living areas; pesticide residues that remain in the items may evaporate and expose people or animals in the area. If it is not possible to hang fabric items to dry, a clothes dryer may be used. Over time, however, the dryer may become contaminated with pesticide residues.

If you are interested in taking a deeper dive into laundering pesticide-contaminated clothing, check out Laundering Pesticide-Contaminated Clothing – New Research Available which was featured in the Illinois Pesticide Review newsletter in 2022. The researchers considered the many changes in washing machines, fabrics, detergents, etc. since laundering studies were conducted in labs in the 1980’s and 90’s. Some of their findings were surprising including a recommendation to avoid wearing 100% cotton jean type materials when applying pesticides. Also, all pesticides included in their trials were transferred to a baby Onesie which was included in each load to determine transfer. The results were alarming. A more detailed laundering procedure than what is shown in this 2024 article is outlined in the 2022 article. 

Maintaining Eyewear and Respirators

Wash goggles, face shields, shielded safety glasses, respirator bodies, and facepieces after each use. Use detergent and hot water to wash them thoroughly. Remove any contaminants (such as residual pesticides) under running water with a soft brush. Sanitize them by soaking for at least 2 minutes in a mixture of 2 tablespoons of chlorine bleach in 1 gallon of hot water. Rinse thoroughly to remove the detergent and bleach. After rinsing to remove the detergent and bleach, dry the items thoroughly or hang them in a clean area to dry.

Pay particular attention to headbands. Replace headbands made of absorbent materials with chemical-resistant headbands. After each day of use, inspect all headbands for signs of wear or deterioration, and replace them as needed.

Store respirators and eyewear in an area where they are protected from dust, sunlight, extreme temperatures, excessive moisture, and pesticides or other chemicals. A sturdy plastic bag with a zip closure works well for storage. Store respirator cartridges in an airtight bag, or they lose their effectiveness.

Respirator maintenance is especially important. Inspect your respirator before each use. Repair or replace any part that shows signs of wear or deterioration. Maintain an inventory of replacement parts for the respirators you own, and do not use substitutes or incompatible brands. If you keep a respirator for emergency use or as a backup, inspect it at least monthly.

If you remove your respirator between handling activities, follow these guidelines:

•  Wipe the respirator body and facepiece with a clean cloth.

•  Replace caps, if available, over cartridges, canisters, and prefilters.

•  Seal the respirator (except for any prefilters) in a sturdy, airtight container, such as a plastic bag with a zip closure. If you do not seal the respirator immediately after each use, the disposable parts will have to be replaced more often because cartridges and canisters continue to collect impurities as long as they are exposed to the air. Prefilters, however, do not lose their effectiveness when exposed to the air. Remove contaminated prefilters before placing the canisters and cartridges in a zip‑closable plastic bag to avoid contaminating the canisters and cartridges.

At the end of every workday that you wear a reusable respirator, be sure to do the following:

•  Remove the prefilter. Most filters should be discarded.

•  Take off the cartridges or canisters. Discard them, or (if they are still usable) replace their caps and seal them in an airtight container, such as a plastic bag with a zip closure.

•  Clean and store the respirator as directed above.

•  Discard disposable respirators according to manufacturer’s instructions. Do not try to clean them.

Remember: Do not store your respirators or other PPE in pesticide-storage areas. 

Handle respirators with the same care that you give your other protective equipment and clothing. Consult labels and SDS for instructions about protective equipment and clothing and remember that protective equipment has limitations. A person is never completely protected and must still use caution and common sense to prevent pesticides from contacting the body. 

ABOUT THE AUTHORS: Michelle Wiesbrook provides subject matter expertise and training in pesticide safety with an emphasis on horticultural weed science. She serves as the Illinois Pesticide Review newsletter editor, collecting and organizing material; and co-coordinates social media information for the PSEP program and ensures its timely publication. Her other interests include herbicide injury and invasive species. Phil Nixon has now retired from the PSEP program.