What’s an Antimicrobial?
This refers to an agent which kills and prevents the growth of microorganisms. Agents which are designed to kill microbes are known as microbicides while those meant to merely stop their growth are described as biostatic. Antimicrobial agents are mainly classified into three distinct groups according to the , as highlighted below:
(I) Disinfectants (Non-Selective Antimicrobials) – These prevent the spread of illnesses by killing a broad range of microbes found on non-living surfaces.
(II) Antiseptics – These are generally used on living tissue, helping reduce infection during surgical procedures.
(III) Antibiotics – These are designed to destroy microorganisms found within the body.
This piece focuses solely on antimicrobial materials as a specialty fabric. We reveal facts about antimicrobials. We also discuss how they work and define whether they are effective or not.
Antimicrobials in the Fight Against Microbes
Major health institutes report that microbes outnumber humans’ cells by a 10:1 ratio. While not all microbes can be said to be bad, inhibiting their growth is of critical importance. These pathogens tend to multiply quickly and their accumulation can result in adverse health effects.
The National Pesticide Information Center reports that certain bacteria populations double every 20-30 minutes under various ideal conditions. That implies a single bacteria cell is capable of increasing to a million cells in just 7-8 hours. The large surface area of textiles and their moisture-retaining ability render them ideal for a rapid growth of microorganisms. The result is a host of non-pleasing effects for the end-user and the material itself.
Textile goods, especially those manufactured from natural fibers, are usually an ideal environment for breeding of pernicious microbes. Accumulation of these microorganisms stains fabrics and reduces the mechanical strength of textiles. That’s actually among the key reasons why apparel comes packaged in extremely airtight bundles.
A single bad microbe is capable of ruining an entire shipment of textiles in a moisture-rich cargo container. Effects on the health of end-users are even more noteworthy. Unchecked growth of microbes can potentially result in odors, contamination, and infection.
The need for reliable protection and preservation of textile products is inarguably fundamental. And, antimicrobial fibers have been proven to be essential in various medical and sanitation applications.
Brief History on the Use of Antimicrobial Agents
Application of antimicrobial agents is dated back to antiquity, particularly when ancient Egyptians made use of herbs and spices in the preservation of mummy wraps. A couple of centuries ago, the Chinese made use of bamboo in housing design and structures. Bamboo contains bamboo-Kun — an antimicrobial substance.
During the Second World War, both the Axis and Allied powers used antimicrobial agents to prevent their textiles from rotting. Truck covers, tentage, and tarpaulins needed protection against microbes — born of snow and heavy rain — which ate through fibers. Military fibers, like cotton duck and webbing, were treated with mixtures of chlorinated waxes, antimony salts, and cooper. Such mixtures helped in stiffening the fabrics and giving them a notably distinct odor.
Start of Modern-Day Antimicrobial Fabrics
During the Second World War, the pollution effects of antibacterial agents weren’t yet considered. Virtually any given chemical compound was utilized in the protection of precious military gear. But, in the 1960s, serious health effects were realized to be a result of overusing chemical agents. Keen consideration was then taken on the effects of these compounds on the earth.
It was then that antimicrobial textiles made their entry into the modern era. Following the publishing of ‘Silent Spring’, a groundbreaking book by Rachel Carson, scientists, ecologists, industrial chemists, and organizations worked hand-in-hand towards creating more eco-friendly antimicrobials and antibiotics.
Key Benefits of Antimicrobial Fabrics
(I) They stay fresher and cleaner longer
(II) They require fewer washes
(III) They help keep textiles smelling relatively better
(IV) They barely produce any permanent stink
(V) They help ensure products last longer
How Do Antimicrobial Materials Work?
At first, it might sound strange that antimicrobial elements are constituted in fabrics. However, the undeniable fact here is that quite many fabrics would succumb as a result of contamination without the aforementioned layer of protection.
Antimicrobial materials help inhibit the growth of various microorganisms, particularly pathogenic ones. Such include bacteria, fungi (like mold & mildew), viruses, and protozoans. When it comes down to antimicrobial fabrics, it’s imperative to note that incorporating a layer of defense against pathogens helps prolong the textile itself, in addition to protecting the end-user.
Antimicrobials are applied to fabrics to fight against pathogens which are potentially infectious. Antimicrobial materials can be made out of various textiles, including vinyl, acrylics, polyester, and polyester-vinyl composites. Most of these come integrated with an enhanced release system, which releases specially formulated antimicrobials to the fabrics’ surfaces.
Are Antimicrobial Fabrics Really Safe and Effective?
Microorganisms can easily live in fabrics and grow. That explains why antimicrobials are deemed so necessary. They are especially useful in industries, like healthcare, where exposure to pathogens is considerably possible on an hourly or daily basis. From pillows to beds, to scrubs worn by nurses and doctors, and even hospital gowns.
The effectiveness of antimicrobial fabrics lies in their ability to prolong a textile’s life and fend off microorganisms. Think about mattresses, blankets, bedding, and travel bags. Oftentimes, such are imbued with oils, sweat, and other contaminants, and would easily serve as breeding grounds for mold, mildew, and bacteria.
However, that can be avoided by using antimicrobials, coupled with applications of other features like odor, stain, and flame resistance, as well as waterproofing. Such enhancements enable fabrics to withstand constant wear and tear, ensuring it lasts much longer than expected.
How Do Antimicrobial Fabrics Control Odor?
Control of odor is among the key functions of antimicrobial materials. That explains why they are usually employed in the manufacture of active-wear.
Laundry alone does too little against the stench of your active-wear. So, the more it’ll smell, the more you’ll wash it. Such a cycle makes your clothes deteriorate quickly as you try fighting the microbes causing your odor. Fortunately, antimicrobial fabrics help prevent such odor-causing microorganisms from taking root.
Antimicrobials help capture offensive odors in a protective barrier and shield the ‘stink’ until laundry time. In turn, your active-wear, backpacks, and luggage bags are kept smelling fresh between washes while preventing the ‘baked-in’ stench which happens as you work out.
Where are Antimicrobial Materials Used?
Antimicrobial materials are primarily used where microbes and moisture meet. They are employed in various applications, including hygiene, healthcare, sportswear, food packaging, automotive gear, air conditioning, and air filters. They’re also used to manufacture fabrics all around our homes, including baby diapers, socks, mattresses, and coverings.
You’re likely to find some fashion or shape of antimicrobial fibers anywhere there are elements that microorganisms feed on. For instance, additives included along fibers (like antistatic, lubricants, natural-based auxiliaries, dirt, etc.) provide a source of food for microorganisms. Antimicrobials are then incorporated to prevent, remove, kill, or inhibit the growth of microbes.
Eco-Friendly Antimicrobial Fabrics
In recent year, we’ve witnessed remarkable innovation in the production of antimicrobial fabrics. That includes the popular coated fabrics popularly available on the market. Coatings are now applied to antimicrobial fabrics for decorative purposes or to influence their thermal insulation, electrical conductivity, and light reflectivity.
Restrictions on Marketing Language
Nowadays, manufacturers can’t just attach an antimicrobial sticker on random textile and distribute them. The FDA keenly monitors the language used by manufacturers when trying to sell their products. Heavy fines are imposed on those that claim their products are stronger or weaker than they actually are.
Opt for the Right Antimicrobial Material(s)
Remember, reliable defense begins with using a product which does its job as effectively as possible. So, when contemplating to use an antimicrobial material, it’d only be sensible that you opt for the right brand that provides long-lasting textiles.
That’s essentially the reason why you ought to understand what antimicrobials are and how they work. In the above guide, we’ve covered virtually all the important basics and facts regarding antimicrobial fabrics.
You can consider doing further research, though. It’s simply the ideal first step if you’re seeking just the right antimicrobial material for your needs.