Scrub Color Meaning: What the Color of Your Scrubs Says About You

You really love the color red, and it flatters your hair color and skin tone. So obviously you should get red scrubs, right? Not so fast. Before purchasing scrubs, you also need to consider the associations that every color has both in the culture at large and within the medical field specifically. Here’s what you need to know about scrub color meanings:

women walking on stairs in purple scrubs

Scrub Color Meanings: Cultural Associations

Colors don’t have any innate meaning in and of themselves. However, through society and cultural practices, colors take on various meanings and come to be associated with different values. For example, in Western cultures, blue is seen as calming and reassuring, while red is meant to catch your attention and possibly issue an alarm. When choosing the color of your scrubs, you need to take these cultural and societal associations into account.

You also need to consider the very specific associations these colors have within a medical context specifically. Red might conjure up ideas of romance on Valentine’s Day, but in a hospital, red just makes patients think of blood and guts (not very soothing!). Some colors also have strong ties to certain subsets of the medical field. For instance, surgeons often wear green scrubs, while OB-GYN practitioners may wear light pink or purple. When choosing your scrubs, you should keep these connections in mind. You might not want to choose green scrubs if you don’t work on a surgical team, for example.

smiling woman wearing blue scrubs and stethoscope

Why Blue and Green Are Such Popular Scrub Colors

While scrubs are available in a wide variety of shades, by far the most common colors you will see on a hospital floor are green and blue. This wasn’t always the case. Once, white was the dedicated uniform of hospital workers. The color white evoked cleanliness and was very easy to bleach. However, all-white uniforms could be very fatiguing on the eyes—and they also made blood and other stains very vivid by contrast, which could unnerve patients. Over time, white medical uniforms were replaced with green and then blue scrubs.

Both blue and green are across the color wheel from red, so when mixed together, they result in a dark, muddy color instead of a vibrant shade. This made blood stains appear less vivid, a plus for medical uniforms—especially surgeons who may frequently splatter their uniforms. Your eyes can also be fatigued if you look at the same color for too long, so green and blue scrubs gave surgeons’ eyes a break after looking at red-colored organs. Over time, green scrubs became closely associated with the operating room, so other departments began wearing blue to differentiate themselves. To this day, it’s still very common for surgical teams to wear green scrubs.

However, not every department is at risk of getting stains all over their scrubs. If you work at a general practitioner’s office, you might only rarely get something on your cotton scrubs. In that case, you might be able to get away with a color other than green or blue that doesn’t neutralize stains quite as well.

woman wearing light blue scrubs with brick background

How to Choose a Scrub Color

At some employers, you’ll be told a specific color to wear that matches either your position or your department, and that will be the end of it. However, in other cases, you’ll have free rein to choose what color you wear, or you will be able to choose from a certain range of shades. When choosing a color, remember that no matter the shade, light shades show stains more easily than dark shades. Solid, dark colors are also more slimming if that’s a concern for you. Darker colors are also known to project a more “serious” air than lighter colors. If you like to mix and match your scrubs, neutrals will give you more options and you won’t have to worry about only being able to wear certain tops with certain bottoms. It’s also a good idea to determine your skin tone, as this will help you choose which shades flatter your complexion. Keep in mind that you might be a little darker in the summer than in the winter if you tan.

You might be able to choose whatever color scrubs you want, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t consider scrub color meanings as you select your newest workwear. Keep these associations and style tips in mind as you search for your latest set of scrubs. If you have a specific hue in mind, shop our scrubs colors by shade to find the perfect match for you.