Introduction:


As far as health-related professions are concerned, protection from pathogens is a growing concern, and textiles with antimicrobial properties are becoming more desirable. Fungi or similar other insects are responsible for lethal infections and allergic reactions. Despite the production of antimicrobial textile products; three inherent problems remain:


  • Demonstration of efficacy,
  • Claiming efficacy in a manner that does not invite legal challenge and,
  • Maintaining efficacy over the lifetime of the textile and through generations of microbial challenges.


These problems might be restated as how to test and present the results of the testing, how to make the effect durable, and how to avoid microbial resistance to the treatment. These problems combine so that in spite of the obvious commercial and advertising potential, effective, durable, inexpensive, and safe biocidal textiles are not widely available in the market. It is of note that one promising compound which has been appearing commercially in a variety of products has just encountered its first resistant organism

Antimicrobial Technologies in Textiles:

Whether the performance or technical fabric is ultimately used outdoors, indoors, or on the body challenges such as microbial control, moisture management, odor control, elasticity, and even softness are prevalent. These challenges offer new opportunities to wisely seek technologies to address those needs whether you are looking for a single or combination of features.

This discussion will address the considerations important in choosing the right finishes for your customers performance needs, i.e. durability, ease of application, safety, and ultimate end-use performance requirements. Consumers needs drive the product value chain and features of value make the margin difference for marketplace success.

The inherent properties of the textile fibres provide room for the growth of micro-organisms. Besides, the structure of the substrates and the chemical processes may induce the growth of microbes. Humid and warm environment still aggravate the problem. Infestation by microbes cause cross infection by pathogens and development odour where the fabric is worn next to skin. In addition, the staining and loss of the performance properties of textile substrates are the results of microbial attack. Basically, with a view to protect the wearer and the textile substrate itself antimicrobial finish is applied to textile materials.


Historical Account:


During World War II, when cotton fabrics were used extensively for tentage, tarpaulins and truck covers, these fabrics needed to be protected from rotting caused by microbial attack. This was particularly a problem in the South Pacific campaigns, where much of the fighting took place under jungle like conditions. During the early 1940 s, the US army Quartermaster Crops collected and compiled data on fungi, yeast and algae isolated from textiles in tropical and subtropical areas throughout the world. Cotton duck, webbing and other military fabrics were treated with mixtures of chlorinated waxes, copper and antimony salts that stiffened the fabrics and gave them a peculiar odour. At the time, potential polluting effects of the application of, these materials and toxicity-related issue were not a major consideration. After World War II, and as late as the mid-to-late 1950.s fungicides used on cotton fabrics were compounds such as 8-hydroxygiunoline salts, copper naphthenate, copper ammonium fluoride and chlorinated phenals.


 

What Are Microbes?


Microbes are the tiniest creatures not seen by the naked eye. They include a variety of micro-organisms like Bacteria, Fungi, Algae and viruses. Bacteria are uni-cellular organisms which grow very rapidly under warmth and moisture. Further, sub divisions in the bacteria family are Gram positive (Staphylococcus aureus), Gram negative (E-Coli), spore bearing or non spore bearing type. Some specific types of bacteria are pathogenic and cause cross infection. Fungi, molds or mildew are complex organisms with slow growth rate. They stain the fabric and deteriorate the performance properties of the fabrics. Fungi are active at a pH level of 6.5. Algae are typical micro organisms which are either fungal or bacterial. Algae require continuous sources of water and sun light to grow and develop darker stains on the fabrics

The hospital and healthcare systems are challenged by the presence of microorganisms and the negative effects they cause. Deterioration, defacement and odors are all dramatic effects which occur from the microbial contamination of surfaces as varied as uniforms and medical non-woven fabrics to medical devices and hard surfaces i.e., walls, ceilings, and air duct systems. Most significantly, these surfaces can act as microbial harbors and transfer site (vectors), offering ideal environments for the proliferation and spread of microorganisms that are harmful to buildings, textiles, and humans. The ability to make microbial resistant surfaces in a healthcare environment has advantages in many applications.

In spite of the many precautions taken to prevent or reduce the transmission of harmful organisms in hospitals, such as hand-cleaning, housekeeping, and laundry protocols, the risk of cross contamination of surfaces and textiles to patients and staff is considerable. Any textile material and hard surface in a hospital environment is a potential carrier of infectious agents such as bacteria, fungi, and yeast. The only effective strategy for reducing such infections and the conditions for reservoirs of organisms where resistance is stimulated is to reduce the dose of microorganisms throughout the healthcare complex using safe persistent antimicrobial technologies to treat such surfaces and to maintain the highest standards of hygiene and use protocols for antibiotics.

Major Challenges:

The problems of allergy and asthma are steadily increasing. One of their major causes is the dust mite, which thrives in the bedding, carpets and furniture of every home. But, today, textile treatments are available. The result - a more comfortable home for those who suffer from these chronic sicknesses. Allergies and asthma seem to be an increasing phenomenon of our everyday lives. We all know at least one person who suffers from these chronic problems. In some parts of the world over 40% of the population shows allergy symptoms. India has been identified as one of the hot spots for asthma around the world. The explanation for this increase is mostly related to the fact that we now live cleaner lives in an air- conditioned world. We might not have to deal with serious diseases like smallpox or polio. Instead, we have a series of smaller complaints, which are perhaps related to our lifestyles. Asthma can be triggered because of a number of reasons. However, in the last few years, we have realised that the cause for a significant amount of allergies and asthma can be attributed to one creature the house dust mite. The World Health Organization has named asthma as one of the major health problems of the current period. The prevalence of dust mites is no unique phenomenon. They exist on every continent, in every country and in every house.


They include:


  • Runny or stuffy nose, chronic rhinitis,
  • Itchy and watery eyes,
  • Sneezing,
  • Asthma attacks,
  • Wheezing coughs,
  • Shortness of breath,
  • Signs of allergy while making the bed,
  • A general feeling of being unwell, without being extremely ill,


 

Antimicrobial Treatment:


By incorporating this type of finish into textiles and fabrics, wearers will be protected from microbiological attack. There are different kinds of antimicrobial finishes, appropriate for different applications and levels of protection. One major application of antimicrobial finish is in the medical field. Medical applications demand powerful bactericidal antimicrobials that will perform quickly to help maintain sterile environments. In case of institutional applications such as uniforms and hotel/ restaurant fabric, the antimicrobial would only be required to have a bacteriostatic effect to control stains and odour. Apparel and home textile applications such as active wear, bed linen, hosiery, underwear, carpeting, etc, will also use antimicrobial activity to control odour and staining.


One major application of antimicrobial finish is in the medical fieldto help maintain sterile environments.

Antimicrobial treatment for textile materials is necessary to fulfill the following objectives:


  • To avoid cross infection by pathogenic micro organisms;
  • To control the infestation by microbes;
  • To arrest metabolism in microbes in order to reduce the formation odour; and
  • To safeguard the textile products from staining, discolouration and quality deterioration.


It is neither possible nor desirable to remove all the dust mites from our environment. They are an important part of the ecosystem. However, it would be useful to eliminate them from the immediate surroundings of those suffering from asthma. This could be done by removing all possible homes for the mites, such as bedding and carpets. But this is a rather drastic measure. Just because a person suffers from an allergy, he/she does not have to sleep in a bare cell. Nowadays, there are treatments available for textiles and carpets, which create an inhospitable environment for the dust mite. This stops the dust mites from inhabiting these locations, thereby, keeping them relatively free of the allergens. The textile treatments used against dust mites have a long history of use as anti-fungal agents. There seems to be a relationship between fungal protection and the inhibition of dust mites. There are a number of theories, which talk about the exact nature of this relationship, but none has been clearly proven. However, it can be demonstrated that anti-bacterial treatments, which are not anti-fungal, have no effect on the dust mite. In addition, it is important to note that not all anti-fungal products have anti-dust mite properties.


Requirements for Antimicrobial Finish:


Textile materials in particular, the garments are more susceptible to wear and tear. It is important to take into

account the impact of stress strain, thermal and mechanical effects on the finished substrates.


The following requirements need to be satisfied to obtain maximum benefits out of the finish:


  • Durability to washing, dry cleaning and hot pressing;
  • Selective activity to undesirable microorganisms;
  • Should not produce harmful effects to the manufacturer, user and the environment;
  • Should comply with the statutory requirements of regulating agencies;
  • Compatibility with the chemical processes;
  • Easy method of application;
  • No deterioration of fabric quality;
  • Resistant to body fluids; and
  • Resistant to disinfections/sterilization.


Antimicrobial Finishing Methodologies:


The antimicrobial agents can be applied to the textile substrates by exhaust, pad-dry-cure, coating, spray and foam techniques. The substances can also be applied by directly adding into the fibre spinning dope. It is claimed that the commercial agents can be applied online during the dyeing and finishing operations. Various methods for improving the durability of the finish include:


  • Insolubilisation of the active substances in/on the fibre;
  • Treating the fibre with resin, condensates or cross linking agents;
  • Micro encapsulation of the antimicrobial agents with the fibre matrix;
  • Coating the fibre surface;
  • Chemical modification of the fibre by covalent bond formation; and
  • Use of graft polymers, homo polymers and/or copolymerization on to the fibre.


 

Application of Antimicrobial in different sectors:


  • Paints & Coatings
  • Plastics
  • Consumer Products
  • Food & Beverage Processing
  • Medical & Healthcare
  • Restaurants & Loading
  • Others


Percentage of Anti-microbial products application in various Industries



Benefits of Antimicrobial Textiles:


A wide range textile product is now available for the benefit of the consumer. Initially, the primary objective of the finish was to protect textiles from being affected by microbes particularly fungi. Uniforms, tents, defence textiles and technical textiles, such as, geotextiles have therefore all been finished using antimicrobial agents. Later, the home textiles, such as, curtains coverings, and bath mats came with antimicrobial finish.


The application of the finish is now extended to textiles used for outdoor, healthcare sector, sports and leisure. Novel technologies in antimicrobial finishing are successfully employed in non-woven sector especially in medical textiles. Textile fibres with built-in antimicrobial properties will also serve the purpose alone or in blends with other fibres. Bioactive fibre is a modified form of the finish which includes chemotherapeutics in their structure, i.e. synthetic drugs of bactericidal and fungicidal qualities. These fibres are not only used in medicine and health prophylaxis applications but also for manufacturing textile products of daily use and technical textiles. The field of application of the bioactive fibres includes sanitary materials, dressing materials, surgical threads, materials for filtration of gases and liquids, air conditioning and ventilation, constructional materials, special materials for food industry, pharmaceutical industry, footwear industry, clothing industry, automotive industry etc.


References:


1)       www.aegismicrobeshield.com/

2)       www.aegisasia.com/

3)       www.indiantextilejournal.com

4)       www.resil.com

5)       www.ieindia.org

6)       The Freedonia Group



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