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Not All Antimicrobial Coatings are Created Equal

The global pandemic has changed our world and society in significant ways. COVID-19 has drastically altered our perception of hygiene and cleanliness, spurring the development of films and coatings with antimicrobial performance.

Previously, these coatings and products struggled to find widespread adoption due to difficulties in qualifying their effectiveness on human health and justifying any additional costs. However, the pandemic has drawn attention to measures that can provide extra protection and reassurance to the general public, creating a new need for antimicrobial surface protection.

However, not all antimicrobial coatings and products are created equal. Some are only effective against bacteria (antibacterial), while some are effective against a broader range of microbes like algae and fungus—offering antimicrobial protection. However, this performance does not necessarily protect against viruses, so users need to choose carefully.

When considering products for use as a preventative measure and increasing hygiene performance, it is crucial to understand the limitations of the three leading antimicrobial technologies: zinc, silver, and copper. All offer protection against bacteria, but only some can provide antimicrobial protection. As damage or cuts on the film can harbor bacteria, the additive needs to be imbued in the film rather than in a top coating, which easily scuffs, scratches, and wears.

Perhaps most important when seeking out antimicrobial protection is to be extremely wary of some of the currently made claims in the marketplace. New disinfectant and additives used within antimicrobial solutions must have ECHA (European Chemicals Agency), EPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency), and FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approval to make valid effectiveness claims. All biocides and pesticides have to be registered.

All governments promote a “test, test, test” attitude regarding infection control, and protection films are no different. Third-party testing needs to be done to determine the effectiveness on any microbial activity. This cannot be a one-off; these need to be part of the quality control and batch-to batch-testing of the product to ensure the desired performance for all locations.

Where products claim to have effectiveness against viruses, they must be registered as a virucide. A simple ISO 21702 coronavirus test on one viral strain such as FCoV (feline coronavirus) or 229E (human coronavirus) does not qualify something as anti-viral or effective for other strains/diseases, like COVID-19.

Additionally, claims of the product’s effectiveness and protection cannot extend outside of the classification of the product itself. This means that any marketing information surrounding potential health benefits are a no-no: they can lead to Advertising Standards Authority investigations and create public confusion.

There is no doubt that there will be significant growth over the coming years in the requirement for antimicrobial technologies within many market sectors, including medical, healthcare, and general public spaces. This means that marketing and product information needs to be clear, concise, and, most importantly, factual.

Shaun Holdom

Shaun Holdom is the global product manager for Drytac, a provider of print media, laminating films and mounting adhesives for sign and display needs.

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