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How does antimicrobial work?

It’s taken a global pandemic for the world to wake up to germs – what they are, how they work, and what we can do to stop them spreading.  As a result, we’ve faced huge infection control challenges during the past 18 months – and one of those challenges has been around surface hygiene.

We know that many common pathogens that cause infection in humans can live on surfaces, but prior to Covid-19, standard surface cleaning was deemed ‘good enough’ to keep these infections in check.  

With the arrival of a new, virulent and highly unpredictable virus, however, ‘good enough’ just wasn’t enough.  Hygiene standards have ramped up exponentially, resulting in a huge burden on cleaning staff across all kinds of organizations – not the least healthcare.  

Therefore it’s not surprising that hospitals, care homes and other organizations are looking for tools to help them maintain higher levels of hygiene without putting their people under strain – and that antimicrobial surface materials are increasingly in demand.

But what is antimicrobial, and how does it work?

A microbe is a microscopic organism made up of one or more cells.  Viruses, bacteria and fungi are all examples of microbes – and antimicrobial materials are substances or surfaces that actively kill or disable these microbes, preventing them from growing or multiplying.

Antimicrobial materials occur in nature – for example silver and copper are both antimicrobial, and these metals can be used as a coating for, or infused into, other materials to create surfaces that actively prevent the growth and spread of germs.  

Man-made antimicrobial surfaces have also been invented by scientists, infusing various trademarked biocides into vinyls and polymers. These materials can be used for a whole variety of purposes including high-volume surfaces such as hand rails, door plates, grab bars and even elevator and touch screen keypads.

Whether they are naturally-occurring or man-made, most antimicrobial surfaces act in similar ways – either by making it difficult for microbes to stick to the surface, or by damaging the microbe’s structures thereby making it impossible for the cell to reproduce (in the case of bacteria) or to invade healthy cells (in the case of viruses).

Antimicrobial coatings on materials tend to wear off over time, especially if that surface is subject to heavy wear and tear or frequent cleaning.  Antimicrobial compounds that are infused into a material give long-term protection that is not diminished by cleaning, or even if the surface becomes damaged.  While antimicrobial materials are not a substitute for stringent hygiene policy, they can take some of the strain off by providing a baseline level of protection and minimizing the contamination levels of surfaces ‘in between cleans’.

Antimicrobial surfaces are cropping up right across the spectrum of Division 10 interior specialties; our InstaSwap curtain fabrics are treated with antimicrobial coating plus we have readily available antimicrobial handrail. In the past year alone, we’ve also added the CleanScreen antimicrobial privacy screen and Am-Clad antimicrobial hygienic wall sheeting to our portfolio.  As we move forward, we expect to see more antimicrobial innovations coming to the fore in lots of different areas, including washroom partitions and grab bars, door protection and work surfaces.

To find out more about our antimicrobial surfaces or to discuss your individual requirements, get in touch.