By the 1940s, advances in surgical antisepsis (now called aseptic technique) and the science of wound infection led to the adoption of antiseptic drapes and gowns for operating room use. Instruments, supplies and dressings were routinely sterilized by exposure to either high-pressure steam or ethylene oxide.
Originally, operating room attire was white to emphasize cleanliness. However, the combination of bright operating lights and an all-white environment led to eye strain for the surgeon and staff. By the 1950s and 1960s, most hospitals had abandoned white operating room apparel in favor of various shades of green, which provided a high-contrast environment, reduced eye fatigue, and made bright red blood splashes less conspicuous.
By the 1970s, surgical attire had largely reached its modern state—a short-sleeve V-necked shirt and drawstring pants or a short-sleeve calf-length dress, made of green cotton or cotton/polyester blend. Over this was worn a tie-back or bouffant-style cloth cap, a gauze or synthetic textile mask, a cloth or synthetic surgical gown, latex gloves, and supportive closed-toe shoes. This uniform was originally known as “surgical greens” because of its color, but came to be called “scrubs” because it was worn in a “scrubbed” environment.