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How Antiviral/Antibacterial Fabrics Work (Plus Three Face Masks for Maximum Defense Against COVID-19)

Novel Coronavirus close up

The potential of antiviral and antibacterial textiles has gained momentum in the COVID-19 era. Although the technologies used to manufacture these fabrics are largely not new, their application to PPE production and, more specifically, to face masks is growing.

As these fabrics become more prevalent in our daily lives, it is helpful to know what they are, the ways they are developed, and how they can help better protect us against all types of possible infection.

The Development of Antiviral and Antibacterial Fabrics Pre-Dates the Pandemic

Fabric itself, rather than cotton exclusively, is quite literally the “fabric of our lives.” Textile materials, which can be woven or non-woven and produced by natural and/or synthetic fibers, are found in clothing, sports equipment, building materials, and home furnishings. Usage spans, but is not limited to, the food, automotive, agriculture, medical, and defense industries.

Textiles play a large role in the transmission of pathogens. Many studies have documented that fabrics in regular contact with hands -- clothes, bed linens, bath and kitchen towels -- are at fault for contributing to the spread of viruses. Materials made of natural fibers, in particular, are especially conducive to microbial growth due to their large surface area and ability to retain moisture.

Fabric
[Photos: Rvo233/iStock; Pineapple Studio/iStock]

A specific study conducted in 2001 to evaluate fabric-fabric versus fabric-hand transfer of Staphylococcus aureus found undoubtable transmission in all scenarios. While conditions involving moisture and friction tended to yield greater bacterial transfer, the results made clear the role of fabrics as infectious agents.

It has been understood for some time, then, the need to limit the ability of fabrics to contain and prosper harmful organisms.

The first textile finishing with both antiviral and antibacterial function was successfully produced by scientists from the Hohenstein Institute in Germany, as reported in 2014. Originally, this fabric was intended for use in nurseries, child day care centers and hospitals as a means for reducing the spread of potential infection.

At the time of study, Professor Höfer, the head of the institute’s hygiene, environment and medicine departments, stated “We are interested in finding out whether the risk of infection, that is to say the spread of germs from person to person, can be reduced by biofunctional textiles in the future.”

In order to combine antiviral and antibacterial properties into one textile product for the first time ever, a sol-gel process was used to apply various organic and inorganic colloidal or nanoparticle copper compounds and copper complexes. Various application techniques were used to optimize effectiveness. 

The inactivation of test viruses was deemed significant across testing. Results also demonstrated abrasion-resistance and were retained over 15 washing cycles. 

The unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic highlights new ways for fabrics like those first tested at the Hohenstein Institute to be used. As a result, this has created increased interest in processes both old and new among scientists and throughout the fashion industry.

There are a Variety of Ways To Create Antiviral and Antibacterial Fabrics Today

Textile technologists are busier than ever in the wake of a pandemic that has touched every part of the globe. Some of the most notable processes that are being used to create protective fabrics under the current climate are below.

HeiQ Viroblock

A compound added during the final stages of manufacturing. Patent-pending, this formulation has strong antimicrobial effects against bacteria and enveloped viruses.

Sonovia Non-Contact Coating

A patented non-contact process that uses an ultrasonic antibacterial coating method and can treat any type of fabric. Both safe and sustainable.

Wearwell Virustatic® Shield

A fabric that uses unique germ-trapping technology and is proven to offer 96% protection against viruses.

Promethean Particles Nano-Copper

Initially created for the healthcare sector, fabrics are created by embedding nano-copper in the fiber extrusion process. The end result is longer-lasting than most surface-coated products.

IIT Guhwati Spray Coating for PPE

Also patent-pending, an affordable and effective metal-based spray. A compound of silver and copper nanoparticles can be sprayed or dip-coated onto textiles.

Application of Antiviral/Antibacterial Fabrics to PPE and Face Masks

Antibacterial masks will help to prevent bacteria buildup and keep your facial covering fresh for a longer period of time. This means less frequent washing and protection from the dreaded maskne (acne due to prolonged mask-wearing). 

Antiviral masks actually serve to reduce viral activity, damaging cells in a way that prevents their reproduction. It is thus beneficial to invest in a mask that combines antibacterial and antiviral forces for a complete defense against pathogens. 

The three mask options below offer maximum protection in both of these regards.

GuardeX Anti-Viral/Anti-Bacterial Face Mask with ProteX Filters

GuardeX is the first lab-tested and FDA-registered mask in its category. Designed for safety and comfort, it also comes with replaceable, surgical-grade filters that provide more than 95% filtration efficiency, greater than any comparable filter available. Breathable fabric pulls moisture away from your face, making this mask compatible with active lifestyles. Optifit ear loops ensure a custom fit. At $15 per mask and washable up to 60 times, it is the most economical and eco-friendly option on the market.

UA Sportsmask

Promoted as the best fit for running and training, Under Armour has developed a mask with an inner antimicrobial treatment and an outer antiviral coating that the company states kills 99.9% of the COVID-19 virus within 10 minutes of contact. With a water-resistant outer shell and breathable polyurethane open-cell foam, this mask is breathable while making it difficult for moisture and sweat to pass. Built-in UPF 50+ sun protection. 

Under Armour Sportsmask

TexsoGuard 

Treated with HeiQ Viroblock NPJ03, the TexsoGuard mask touts an antibacterial and antiviral efficacy of +99%. HeiQ Smart Temp technology keeps the wearer cool and comfortable. In the middle of this triple-layer mask, 60gsm SMMS fabric filters out fine dust particles for a PPE value of 95% plus. Washable and reusable up to 30 times, TexsoGuard is one size fits most with adjustable ear loops. 

TexsoGuard mask

Looking Ahead: Our Future Living In Antiviral/Antibacterial Fabrics 

Protecting our freedom and quality of life moving through and optimistically beyond the COVID age is of premium importance. In March of 2020, we sanitized every surface in our homes, wiped down every grocery store purchase, and avoided touching public door handles and elevator buttons. We finally learned how long it takes to properly wash and disinfect our hands. Hand sanitizer demand was at an all-time high.

GuardeX UV-C Pen, portable cleaning light wand for home, office, airplanes, hotels, cars, buses, subway, travel, ultraviolet light pen, kills 99.9% of viruses and bacteria

Technology, too, has reliably stepped in to provide increased confidence. Not only has the germicidal capabilities of UV-C light been made portable and accessible by UV sanitizing pens, but the production of revolutionary fabrics to repel bacteria and destroy deadly viruses is a technological feat with the capability to keep us safe in so many ways moving forward.

As reported by Susan Karlin, Scott Pantel (CEO of Life Science Intelligence) believes, “The antimicrobial textile market is going to be one of the rare markets that is not only having a short-term bounce from the COVID pandemic, but will experience long-term growth. Companies like Google, Amazon, and Microsoft are all coming into the healthcare space, and consumer demand for antimicrobial material is going to be massive. If these guys are really the first to successfully test against COVID, they’re going to be huge winners.” 

The antimicrobial textile market is expected to surpass $20.5 billion by 2026.

It is not surprising to learn, then, that a number of large brands are preparing to make antiviral/antibacterial fabrics a staple in upcoming collections. Careismatic Brands, under which Cherokee and Dickies products fall, is currently preparing to create scrubs, lab coats, gowns and masks in the antiviral category.

Andrew Coutant, the vice president of global equipment and accessories for The North Face, has also reported the incorporation of virus-fighting materials in the company’s gear as a means for safer travel.

Okyung International, a Korean textile manufacturer, is developing treated PPE, military uniforms, medical dressings, and car and aircraft seats. According to CEO Youngdo Kim, “We now have an effective tool to help save lives.”

Face masks are subsequently only the beginning with regards to the popularization of illness-fighting fabrics. In the case of the current pandemic, however, they may be one of the most important applications. Compounded by the knowledge that COVID-19 spread is predominantly airborne via aerosols, face masks have become our primary and necessary tool for defense.

By creating masks with antiviral and antibacterial properties, we further strengthen our ability to stave off infection. It follows, then, that these face coverings will undoubtedly hold a place in a COVID-free future, where enemies like the common cold and influenza will continue to pose their own threats to public health.