Used personal protective equipment (PPE) must be removed and disposed of properly to avoid transmission of contaminants on its surface. When removing gloves and face masks, certain procedures must be followed to guard against contact with your exposed skin, as well as others around you.
These guidelines outline the exact steps to take when removing gloves and masks—especially during the current coronavirus pandemic, but also in everyday practice.
Be aware of contaminated and “clean” sides
Although no part of your gloves or mask is guaranteed to be pathogen-free, the rule of thumb is to handle the least contaminated part of your PPE. Generally speaking, the contaminated side of your gloves or mask is the outside—the surface that’s exposed and not touching your skin.
The “clean” portions are the inside of your gloves, the side of the mask touching your face, and the ties or bands that hold the mask to your head. Restrict your contact to these “clean” sides when removing your gear.
Proper sequence of removal
Your gloves are the items of use most likely to come in direct contact with contaminated materials. In all instances, gloves should be the first items you remove.
If you’re wearing a face shield on top of your mask, that should be removed second, since it’s typically the most complicated article to handle. If you’re wearing a temporary gown, that should actually come off before you remove your mask or respirator, which should be the final item you take off in all situations.
Take gloves and masks off in the proper location
Where you remove your PPE is almost as important as how you do it. Taking off your gloves and masks in a room or area away from your patient—in the doorway, the hallway, or in a separate room altogether—is always a good idea. However, if the only articles you’re wearing are gloves, with no facial protection or gown, you can remove the gloves in the patient’s quarters before disposing of them in a proper waste receptacle.
The objective of removing gloves is to minimize contact with the contaminated surface—the outside—and to combine them into one disposable unit, sort of like a matched pair of socks that have just come out of the dryer. Take off your gloves in this sequence.
- Grab the glove on your first hand, by the edges near the wrist.
- Peel the glove off your hand, touching only the inside surface. Make sure you’re turning the glove inside-out so that the contaminated side is no longer exposed.
- Hold the first, removed glove in your still-gloved second hand.
- Slide a finger on your now-ungloved hand just under the edge of the second glove near your wrist.
- Peel the second glove off, turning it inside out, and forming a “ball” with the other removed glove.
Your removed gloves should now be combined into a single unit for easy disposal.
Removing your mask
After taking off your gloves and any other protective clothing you’ve worn, you can remove your mask. This should always be done in an area away from other patients to protect against the spread of pathogens from the moisture in your breath or saliva. As with the gloves, you should restrict direct contact to the part of the mask least likely to be contaminated: the ties or bands holding it to your head.
- Grab the band or tie connected to your mask at the back of the head.
- If it’s tied with string, untie the bow. If it’s an elastic band, just grab the band.
- Bring the hand holding the ties to your face front. Remove your mask from your face by pulling on it with the bands or ties. Don’t touch the mask itself.
Dispose of your gloves and mask in a designated container
Always dispose of your used PPE equipment in a receptacle or bin specifically designated for used equipment—never in an unmarked wastebasket or trashcan.