Antimicrobial textiles are those which can inhibit the growth or kill microbes, which is the broad term for micro organisms such as bacteria, fungi, algae and viruses. This functionality was originally developed as a means of preserving textiles from perishing due to microbial attack. Natural fibres are typically more susceptible to supporting microbial growth but all fibre surfaces within a textile provide an environment for microbes to attach, and conditions such as heat, moisture and the oxygen availability within the textile structure complete the necessities for microbe multiplication.
The threat of microbial degradation of Geotextiles is a challenge of the sector as the continued exposure to moisture and bio organisms provides contact and growth conditions. This can, of course, be advantageous if biodegradability is a required quality. However, in a subsidiary protection role, the requirement to perform unimpaired long term requires microbial protection and synthetic fibres are more commonly used in this area for this reason.
In the Apparel and Sports & Leisure sectors, garments with added ‘freshness’ incorporate silver particles into the fibres or as a finish, providing microbial protection, preventing odours, staining and possible infections. Body heat and moisture provide ideal conditions for microbial activity and wicking textiles to aid fast drying can further minimise the growth risk. This kind of close-to-skin application requires antimicrobial to be biocompatible.
The largest scope for antimicrobial textiles is within the Medical & Hygiene sector, which includes a wide range of applications, from bandages and other wound management systems to bio implants and baby diapers. Textiles in hospitals are a necessity for both protection and comfort, including woven and non-woven items such as bedding, towels, uniforms, bandages and wipes. All these items can harbour potentially pathogenic microbes and provide a risk of cross-contamination, but antimicrobial properties aid to minimise this risk.
Interior textiles such as bedding, upholstery and flooring further utilise antimicrobial properties to provide products to minimise the growth of allergens such as dust mites.