The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of protecting medical workers and the general public through the correct equipment when it comes to dealing with infectious diseases. Antimicrobial fabrics and garments play a crucial role in preventing the transmission of bacteria and infections in healthcare environments among various others, by serving as the first line of defence.
What are Antimicrobial Fabrics?
Antimicrobial fabrics destroy or inhibit the growth of microorganisms, and especially pathogenic microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi. They work by preventing the microorganisms from attaching to the fabric surface normally through impregnating the fabric’s surface with biocide chemical treatments such as biogenic silver nano particles. Antimicrobial textiles can be produced using various types of fibres such as polyester, polyester-vinyl composites, vinyl, and acrylic fabrics. This means that applying an antimicrobial treatment to an existing product or selected fabric type can be done so easily.
The effectiveness of an antimicrobial fabric is measured not only by its capacity to prevent the propagation of microorganisms, but also its role in helping to prolong the life of a textile and therefore lowering the rate of replacement. For example, antimicrobial fabrics are often used for hospital blankets and bedding which regularly come into contact with sweat and other bodily fluids which serve as contaminants. Such contamination acts as a breeding ground for bacteria and mould which can quickly destroy the integrity of the fabric. However, through the use of an antimicrobial coating, coupled with other specialised textile coatings such as stain, odour resistance, and waterproofing; the textile can be used for much longer requiring a lower rate of replacement.
How can you ensure the effectiveness of an Antimicrobial fabric?
International organizations such as the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colourists (AATCC), the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM);, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and Japanese Industrial Standard (JIS) have developed standardised tests to evaluate the performance of a given antimicrobial fabric. Common test methods used to assess antibacterial fabric include the ISO 20743 (JIS L 1902) or the ISO 22196 (JIS Z 2801).
Antimicrobial textiles for use outdoors with exposure to the elements, where antifungal protection is crucial, should be tested using the AATCC Method 30, Part III or the ASTM G21. Other methods, such as the MIL-STD-810G, Method 508.6 Annex B are also used to assess antifungal fabric when required.
What can Antimicrobial Fabrics be used for?
Antimicrobial coated fabrics can be used in a variety of ways to suit the specific desired functionality of a textile or garment. Conventionally, antibacterial textiles have been used in hospitals and healthcare environments for medical scrubs, surgical masks, laboratory coats, hospital bedding, hospital curtains and mattresses as well as for wound dressing.
Furthermore, they are increasingly used in other types of textile products given the benefits of prolonging product life as well as the health benefits to the wearer. Antimicrobial fabrics are therefore also used for sportwear apparel, military fabrics, professional and school uniforms. In public places they can be used for architectural fabrics, awnings, canopies and carpets while in the home they can be used for producing towels, bedding, upholstery and bedding.
Amid the current pandemic, a global consciousness has emerged that is placing greater emphasis on the need for good hygiene practices and the role as well as responsibility of the individual in preventing the spread of infectious diseases. Within the new global reality that is demanding extra vigilance when it comes to public health, antimicrobial fabrics and garments can play a key role in protecting the public and healthcare workers in hospitals, nursing homes, schools and beyond.