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What Are Sterile Drapes?

By Misty Wiser
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Sterile drapes are sections of sterilized cloth-like material utilized in many medical settings. They are used to either create a contaminant free area during an operation or conceal the areas of the body not affected by a procedure. Medical equipment may be covered with sterile drapes to protect it. Draping is designed to be super absorbent and strong enough to prevent tearing. Some are disposable and individually packaged for a single use.

The use of sterile drapes creates an area free of contamination during medical and surgical procedures. They may be classified as fenestrated, meaning with holes or openings, or non-fenestrated. They are most commonly made of a paper tissue material with a plastic backing. Depending on the intended use, the tissue paper may be single ply or two-ply. Many drapes are a plain blue or white color, but they are also available in printed patterns.

Some sterile drapes are composed of a polyethylene material. These are used to cover smaller pieces of equipment, such as hand-held lasers or x-ray cameras. They are latex free and may be secured into place with an adhesive tape or rubber bands. Cloth drapes are available for certain medical procedures.

Sterile drapes are used for nearly every medical procedure. Before surgery, they are used to cover the area that is not part of the surgical procedure. The drapes may have Velcro® attachments to hold tubing and intravenous (IV) lines in place during the operation. Some have fold-up pouches at the bottom of the drape to collect any blood or bodily fluids released during surgery. The pouches may have an adhesive lining to seal the pouch closed after surgery for easier clean up.

Each part of the body has a different shaped drape designed for it. Many procedures require the use of specially shaped drapes to accommodate medical equipment and ensure the surgical area remains sterile. Most surgical procedures have a specific set of surgical drapes necessary for the operation. The entire set may come packaged together for simplified operating room setup.

Sterile drapes are also used to protect medical equipment from accidental damage. Fluids and small surgical tools can cause damage if dropped on some equipment. Draping such equipment with sterile tissue can protect the equipment without any risk of contaminating the sterile field necessary for most medical procedures. Some medical equipment may not need to be replaced as often with the regular use of sterile draping.

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Discussion Comments
By MissDaphne — On Aug 20, 2011

@ElizaBennett - I think those sterile surgical drapes can be either disposable or reusable. Sometimes they even use them for regular vaginal births - they cover the mother's legs with them. (Personally, I think that's absurd - my hospital doesn't do that.)

I'm guessing hot water and bleach would disinfect them, or maybe they have a special disinfectant.

By ElizaBennett — On Aug 19, 2011

I didn't know what these were called, but I've seen them. I had a C-section (placenta previa) and of course they hung one of those at about my waist level. It's so strange - you can't really feel anything and you can't see, either. (My husband peaked over the top so he could see our baby born.) Then after the baby is out, your husband is focused on the little one and the surgical team is concerned with your bottom half; you the person are kind of forgotten about!

I remember a blue cloth steri drape. Maybe this is a dumb question, but do they reuse those? How do they sterilize the sheet?

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