Personal protective equipment is special equipment you wear to create a barrier between you and germs. This barrier reduces the chance of touching, being exposed to, and spreading germs.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) helps prevent the spread of germs in the hospital. This can protect people and health care workers from infections.
All hospital staff, patients, and visitors should use PPE when there will be contact with blood or other bodily fluids as well as when exposed to air-borne diseases such as COVID-19.
Types of PPE
Wearing gloves protects your hands from germs and helps reduce the spread of germs.
Masks cover your mouth and nose.
- Some masks have a see-through plastic part that covers your eyes.
- A surgical mask helps stop germs in your nose and mouth from spreading. It can also keep you from breathing in some germs.
- A special respiratory mask (respirator) forms a tight seal around your nose and mouth. An N95 respirator is an example of this type of equipment. It may be needed so that you do not breathe in small germs like tuberculosis bacteria or measles or chickenpox viruses.
Eye protection includes face shields and goggles. These protect the mucous membranes in your eyes from blood and other bodily fluids. If these fluids make contact with the eyes, germs in the fluid can enter the body through the mucous membranes. These also may protect from infectious droplets carried through the air.
Clothing includes gowns, aprons, head covering, and shoe covers.
- These are often used during surgery to protect you and the patient.
- They are also used during surgery to protect you when you work with bodily fluids.
- Visitors wear gowns if they are visiting a person who is in isolation due to an illness that can be easily spread.
You may need special PPE when handling some cancer drugs. This equipment is called cytotoxic PPE.
- You may need to wear a gown with long sleeves and elastic cuffs. This gown should keep liquids from touching your skin.
- You may also need to wear shoe covers, goggles, and special gloves.
Choose the Right PPE
You may need to use different types of PPE for different people. Your workplace has written instructions about when to wear PPE and what type to use. You need PPE when you care for people who are in isolation as well as other patients.
Ask your supervisor how you can learn more about protective equipment.
After You Use PPE
Remove and dispose of PPE safely to protect others from being exposed to germs. Before leaving your work area, remove all PPE and put it in the right place. This may include:
- Special laundry containers that can be reused after cleaning
- Special waste containers that are different from other waste containers
- Specially marked bags for cytotoxic PPE
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Personal protective equipment. www.cdc.gov/niosh/ppe. Updated August 2, 2021. Accessed January 18, 2022.
Palmore TN. Infection prevention and control in the health care setting. In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 298.
Review Date 10/24/2021
Updated by: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.