Comparing two of the most widely used textiles in personal protective equipment (PPE)

Infection control is a critical issue for modern healthcare environments. Minimizing the spread of disease and pathogens is an ongoing battle both for healthcare workers (HCWs) and patients.

Recent data reports more than 4.1-million patients are impacted annually by healthcare-associated infections in Europe alone.

Across the globe, 30% of ICU patients are affected by at least one healthcare-associated infection.

30% of ICU patients are affected by at least one healthcare-associated infection

Single-use personal protective equipment (PPE) is often one of the first lines of defence keeping HCWs — and their patients — safe from pathogens in the environment and preventing their spread.

Today, non-woven textiles are the predominant material used for PPE due to their excellent balance of effectiveness and affordability.

However, the various nonwovens available offer different levels of protection.

The characteristics of nonwovens also make some more ideal in terms of comfort and ease of use.

In this guide, we’ll explore the difference between traditional spunbond polypropylene (SBPP) and the superior spunbond-meltblown-spunbond (SMS) in the healthcare environment and highlight critical considerations.

What is Polypropylene?

While the definition is more technical, it’s essentially plastic. Most polypropylene starts its journey as small pellets.

polypropylene pellets
For use in textiles, such as face masks and gowns, these pellets are melted down then converted into thin fibres.

Depending on the size of the fibres and how they’re combined, the properties of the textile will change.

Polypropylene is ideal for nonwoven textiles in the medical sector because of its inherent moisture-resistant properties.

Its colorfastness also makes it perfect for creating textiles with a particular brand or use in mind.

Spunbond Polypropylene (SBPP) Characteristics

SBPP is one of the most basic polypropylene-based nonwoven fabrics in production. It is created by taking sheets of extruded polypropylene and bonding them using a process called calendaring.

llustration of calendaring manufacturing process
In this process, the sheets are passed between rollers at a high temperature and pressure until achieving the desired weight and thickness.

The result is a material with long, loosely bonded fibres and large pores.


Benefits of SBPP textiles for PPE include:

  • Basic moisture resistance
  • Excellent Durability
  • Versatility
  • Breathable

However, by taking this basic textile and using it to form a new, unique textile additional benefits for healthcare workers can be found.

Spunbond + Meltblown + Spunbond (SMS) Characteristics

SMS starts with two layers of the spunbond polypropylene described earlier. However, it takes things further by layering them with a central layer of meltblown nonwoven fabric.

illustration of spunbond meltdown process
Meltblown sheets are made by taking the polypropylene and other polymers and extruding them into nanofibres using a high-speed blowing gas. These fibres are then layered into thin sheets.

The result is a nonwoven textile with exceptional filtration and moisture repellent properties.

By placing a layer of meltblown between the two layers of spunbond polypropylene, the new textile offers many fluid resistance and flexibility benefits in addition to a greatly increased ability to deal with the hazardous environments often encountered by HCWs.

magnified view of sms polypropylene


Benefits of SMS textiles for PPE include:

  • Excellent fluid resistance
  • Enhanced bacterial filtration
  • Excellent durability
  • Versatility

A Look at the Difference Materials Can Make by the Numbers

SMS nonwoven fabrics allow PPE manufacturers to drastically improve key characteristics such as fluid resistance, bacterial filtration, and ease of donning/doffing for critical PPE without drastically increasing weight or impacting wearability and comfort as might be required using traditional spunbond polypropylene.

As an example, let’s look at our own SMS Single-Use Isolation and Cover Gowns.

The first figure we’ll look at is hydrostatic pressure testing.

This measurement gauges a material’s ability to resist fluid penetration by exposing it to increasing pressures until the material is penetrated.

Using the AATCC 127 testing method, standard 17gsm spunbond has a value of 3.0cm H2O while 17gsm SMS has a value of 19.2cm H2O — an approximately 313% increase in penetration resistance with no additional weight.

When looking at heavier textiles, these differences continue to grow. Standard 40gsm spunbond tested at 12.4cm H2O while 36gsm SMS tested at 79.4cm H2O.

These same traits apply when looking at Bacterial Filtration Efficiency (BFE).

Using the ASTM F2101 testing method, 17gsm spunbond achieved a BFE rating of 13% while 17gsm SMS offered a rating of 71%.

The highest grades of SMS offer higher rates still, with some measuring up to 90% BFE.

For a look at the full data in our testing, consult the chart below.

These benefits can be further accentuated by effective design of PPE — such as the overhead thumbloop design offered by our gowns.

While the choice of textile can help to reduce weight and increase protection from hazardous elements, a well-designed piece of PPE also allows HCWs to perform their job better, easier, and with greater protection.

All of this is possible without a significant change in financials for the facility.


For more information about single-use cover and isolation gowns — such as general uses, best practices, and donning/doffing instructions, consult our AAMI Gown Protection Standards FAQ.

Curious how PRIMED’s industry-leading isolation and cover gowns can help to protect your staff and patients? We’ve helped businesses across North America and Europe for decades. Contact us with any questions and our experts will highlight how PRIMED can help you meet the increasingly complex safety requirements of today’s modern healthcare regulations.