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New coating process makes fabrics antimicrobial

Every day, countless individuals in hospitals—patients, visitors, and medical staff—come into contact with various surfaces. Door handles, railings, and elevator buttons, among others, can unwittingly become carriers for pathogens, including hospital germs and viruses. While smooth surfaces can be relatively easy to clean after contamination, the same cannot be said for porous structures like textiles.

Researchers at Empa, in collaboration with experts from BASF, Spiez Laboratory, and the Technical University of Berlin, have successfully addressed this challenge. They've developed a novel coating process that allows fabrics to be treated in a way that either kills or inhibits the growth of bacterial and viral pathogens. This breakthrough opens up possibilities for using coated textiles in hospitals, where they could serve as antimicrobial curtains between patient beds, among other applications. The findings of this research have been published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Active for months

In our quest to find a reliable process preventing the contamination of textiles frequently touched by numerous individuals, Peter Wick from Empa's Particles-Biology Interactions laboratory in St. Gallen explains the significance. The goal was to break the chains of infection, preventing the spread of multi-resistant bacteria or viral pathogens that might settle on items like hospital curtains.

The researchers successfully devised a coating process involving the application of a disinfectant containing benzalkonium chloride onto hospital curtains. Through meticulous optimization of parameters such as concentration, exposure time, processing pressure, and drying, the coating adhered securely to the textile surface. The crucial question remained: Did the coated textiles exhibit germicidal effects? The answer emerged through laboratory tests analyzing the antimicrobial activity of the initial fabric samples.

Peter Wick expresses enthusiasm about the results, noting that the coated textiles demonstrated inhibitory effects on the growth of problematic germs such as staphylococci and pseudomonas bacteria during bacterial culture incubation. The coated fabrics significantly reduced or even killed hospital germs within a mere 10 minutes of exposure. Notably, the coating also displayed activity against viral pathogens, with over 99% of viruses being killed by the fabric samples.

An additional advantage lies in the long-lasting effectiveness of the coatings, even after several months of storage. This capability facilitates stock production. Looking ahead, the new process could extend its application to swiftly and safely treat other textiles, filters, or cleaning tools with antimicrobials—particularly valuable in addressing epidemics, as highlighted by Wick.

Source: Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology

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