A white coat or laboratory coat (often abbreviated to lab coat) is a knee-length overcoat/smock worn by professionals in the medical field or by those involved in laboratory work. The coat protects their street clothes and also serves as a simple uniform. The garment is made from white or light-colored cotton, linen, or cotton polyester blend, allowing it to be washed at high temperature and make it easy to see if it is clean. Similar coats are a symbol of learning in Argentina, where they are worn by students. In Tunisia, teachers wear white coats to protect their street clothes from chalk.
When used in the laboratory, they protect against accidental spills, e.g. acids. In this case they usually have long sleeves and are made of an absorbent material, such as cotton, so that the user can be protected from the chemical. Some lab coats have buttons at the end of the sleeves, to secure them around the wrist so that they do not hang into beakers of chemicals. Short-sleeved lab coats also exist where protection from substances such as acid is not necessary, and are favoured by certain scientists, such as microbiologists, avoiding the problem of hanging sleeves altogether, combined with the ease of washing the forearms (an important consideration in microbiology).
Like the word "suit", the phrase "white coat" is sometimes used to denote the wearer, i.e. the scientific personnel in a biotechnology or chemical company.
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