3-Oct-2011

Researchers develop antimicrobial workwear that is comfortable to wear

Hygiene is essential in the operating theatre. Pic courtesy of astoria - Fotolia

Scientists at the Hohenstein Institute in Germany, in co-operation with the Thüringen Institute for Textile and Plastics Research and the Saxony Textile Research Institute at the Technical University of Chemnitz, have developed a fabric for antimicrobial workwear based on regenerated cellulose fibres.

The researchers aimed to combine, in one garment, a protective function, high mechanical strength, a long service life and ease of care with good physiological functionality and a high level of comfort.

Along with the requirement for high hygiene standards, it was also very important for the workwear to be comfortable, with many wearers preferring cotton because it is so comfortable to wear.

Regenerated cellulose fibres were used in the manufacture of the new material because they show some of the same characteristics as cotton, but being synthetic in origin they can be given an antimicrobial treatment.

The antimicrobial treatment available in the market so far has been silver-based and is incorporated into the fibres.

Although silver has bactericidal qualities, one of its disadvantages is that it can cause darkening or colour changes when the fabric is washed, or as a result of other external influences. However, because of the association with cleanliness, in hygienically sensitive areas pure white workwear is preferred.

In developing the new materials, the scientists first produced three versions of the fibre, to which zinc, zinc oxide and silver nitrate were added.

Zinc proved to have the same advantages as silver when used as an active ingredient, but, unlike silver, it did not cause any change of colour during processing and care treatments.

The researchers found that the new fibre variants, subject to certain specific requirements, could be used to make workwear containing a high proportion of cellulose fibres.

The version with silver nitrate also had titanium oxide added so as to avoid subsequent discolouring of the thread even at the manufacturing stage. However, this did not result in any improvement; the changes in colour were lighter, but still visible.

The material’s compliance with the minimum technical standards for textiles, such as garment manufacturing requirements, comfort and suitability for leasing, was tested using DIN 10524, and the antimicrobial effectiveness was tested after 100 washing and drying cycles.

The results of these tests showed that the research project could form the basis for an innovative approach to making antimicrobial textiles using zinc and regenerated cellulose fibres, said the Hohenstein Institute.

These fibres and the woven and knitted fabrics made from them provide effective hygienic protection, they are comfortable to wear and suitable for leasing, and so could improve hygiene and reduce the transmission of infectious diseases, especially through food.

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