Why are surgeons scrubs green?

Scrubs worn by surgeons and other operating room personnel are typically green for several important reasons. The color green has a long history of being associated with medicine and healthcare, helps surgeons focus visually, provides camouflage for stains and bodily fluids, and offers psychological benefits related to the color.

The History of Green Scrubs

The tradition of wearing green scrubs and gowns in the operating room began over 100 years ago. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, most surgeons wore street clothes or whatever they felt like wearing when performing surgery. This posed risks of spreading infection between patients. As germ theory and the importance of antisepsis became more widely accepted in medicine, the need for more sanitary operating room attire became evident.

In the 1910s, clinics and hospitals began providing white cotton gowns and masks for surgeons to wear. However, the white fabrics easily showed blood stains and other fluids. Surgeons would often wear heavy rubber aprons over their white gowns to help protect from staining, but these thick aprons were hot, heavy, and unwieldy.

The color green started being used for operating room attire in the 1920s. Green colored fabrics were found to be better at camouflaging the red color of blood compared to white. Green was also thought to be a calming and soothing color for patients undergoing surgery. By the 1930s and 1940s, the familiar green cotton scrub suits with drawstring pants and short sleeved V-neck tops became standard operating room garb.

Green as the Traditional Medical Color

The use of the color green for surgeons’ scrubs is partly a continuation of the longstanding association of green with medicine, healthcare, and healing. In many cultures around the world throughout history, green has been linked to medicinal plants, herbs, and health.

In ancient Egypt, the god Thoth carried a staff entwined with two serpents, a symbol of medicine called the caduceus. Thoth’s skin was sometimes depicted as green in Egyptian artworks. The Greeks associated green with their goddess Demeter, who oversaw healing herbs. Jade amulets were used in ancient China to promote healing and reduce pain. Medieval Islamic medicine utilized green healing elixirs and ointments.

In more modern times, the color green has been used ubiquitously for pharmacies, dentist offices, optometry clinics, veterinary hospitals, and other medical facilities. The iconic red cross on white background of medical services is paired with a green background for medical supply units. The American Medical Association uses an insignia with a large green cross. Green seems intrinsically linked as the color representing medicine, healing, and health.

Visual Focus for Surgeons

Operating rooms are visually complex environments with various equipment, tools, fluids, and people moving about. Surgeons need to remain highly visually focused on the surgical site and tasks at hand without distraction. The consistent green background of scrubs serves an important function by allowing surgeons to focus their visual attention only on hands, tools, and the operating field rather than on what others in the room are wearing.

Experiments have shown that perceptual discrimination is faster and more accurate with green backgrounds compared to backgrounds of other colors. Green may provide better visual acuity for surgeons compared to working with a more visually complex or cluttered environment. Having the entire surgical team wear green scrubs likely helps the lead surgeon maintain focus by presenting a uniform background.

Camouflaging Stains and Bodily Fluids

Despite precautions taken to avoid contact with blood and other fluids, splashes and stains are inevitable during surgery. Green scrubs do the best job of masking these stains compared to any other color.

In a healthcare setting, being stained with blood, urine, vomit or other bodily fluids can be embarrassing and unprofessional looking. Green scrubs allow doctors, nurses, and technicians to maintain a tidy appearance if fluids end up on their clothing during procedures. Green also does well at hiding wrinkles and wear marks compared to lighter colors.

In some hospitals, different departments wear different colored scrubs. For example, nursing staff may wear blue scrubs while surgical technicians wear purple. But in the operating room, surgeons universally stick with green for its superior stain camouflaging capabilities.

Psychological Impacts of Green

Green has psychological effects that may benefit surgeons as they perform intricate and stressful work. The color green is often associated with nature, life, renewal, and calming emotions. Surrounded by green in the operating room may have a reassuring and relaxing effect for surgeons.

Green also represents safety, permission, and abundance. It provides surgeons with subconscious mess aging that they are in the right environment to proceed confidently with their work. Patients being wheeled into surgery see that the surgeons are dressed in green, subconsciously signaling that they are in a place of healing and care.

Green scrubs may also impact how patients perceive their surgeons. Studies have shown that people tend to associate the color green with attributes like competence, dependability, and honesty. Wearing green allows surgeons to tap into these subconscious perceptions of trustworthiness and capability.

Standardization in Hospitals

Hospitals have standardized on green scrubs for several logistical and regulatory reasons. Having a standard color makes it easy to identify who is allowed in sterile surgical environments. It also helps patients know who is a surgeon versus a visitor or non-medical staff.

Standardized green scrubs also act as an egalitarian symbol. Regardless of discipline or title, all members of the surgical team wear the same green clothing in the operating room. This empowers nurses, technicians, and other staff to speak up if they notice a concern during surgery.

Many jurisdictions require licensed physicians to clearly display their name and title on their clothing. Green scrubs allow for easy addition of embroidered names, medical degrees, and caduceus symbols to identify the roles of surgical team members.

Other Hypothesized Reasons for Green Scrubs

In addition to the major factors above, there are some other speculative reasons why green may have become the color of choice for surgeons’ scrubs:

  • Green is thought to be less irritating to surgeons’ eyes compared to brighter colors under intense OR lights.
  • Green scrubs contrast with red blood and yellow/brown bodily fluids for easy visual distinction.
  • Green fabric may better hide lint compared to darker colors like black or navy blue.
  • Green provides camouflage outside the hospital, allowing surgeons to avoid notice and travel discreetly.

However, most experts agree that tradition, focus, stain masking, and psychological impact are the primary factors that have driven green to become the standard color for operating room attire.

Recent Relaxation of Green Scrub Rules

In the past, hospital administrations were often strict about requiring surgical staff to only wear green scrubs. But these rules have relaxed somewhat in recent decades. It is now common to see operating room personnel wearing surgical caps and masks in a variety of colors. Some nurses and techs opt for patterned scrubs featuring flowers, animals, and cartoon characters over solid green.

Most surgeons still stick with traditional green scrubs, both for practicality and to maintain a professional appearance. However, some hospitals permit surgeons to wear blue or black scrubs if desired. The green color convention is deeply ingrained in operating room culture, but there is more flexibility today in scrub choices.

Scrub Design Improvements

While the color has remained largely consistent, the design of surgical scrubs has improved over the decades:

  • Modern scrubs are made from lightweight, breathable fabrics like cotton, polyester, and microfiber blends for comfort.
  • The loose fit allows for mobility and ventilation to help deal with hot operating room temperatures.
  • Some scrubs feature moisture wicking materials to keep surgeons dry and comfortable.
  • Antimicrobial coatings help kill bacteria and viruses and reduce odor.
  • Multiple pockets allow easy access to critical tools and supplies.

Today’s green surgical scrubs are specially engineered to make challenging operating room environments more bearable for surgeons.

Green Scrubs Outside the OR

Green scrubs are not just for operating rooms anymore. Doctors, dentists, veterinarians, and other healthcare workers often wear scrubs in clinics, labs, nursing homes, and other medical settings. Green colored scrubs have become shorthand for signaling someone works in healthcare.

Some medical professionals appreciate the convenience of wearing scrubs in settings outside hospitals. They are comfortable and provide easy access for medical tools in pockets. However, critics argue that wearing scrubs in public risks transmitting germs and contributes to an unprofessional image for healthcare workers.

Hospitals typically require changing out of OR scrubs before leaving in order to control infections. But more work is needed to develop standards balancing practicality, infection control, and professional perceptions regarding out-of-hospital scrub wear.


Green operating room attire has been a tradition for surgeons for nearly a century now. The color provides visual focus, hides stains, and taps into subconscious associations with healing and trust. Despite some loosening of scrub rules, most surgeons continue wearing green because it works well for them in the challenging surgical environment. Green scrubs help surgeons concentrate on their patients and perform their best in the operating room.

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