Being in the graphics industry for over 30 years, I have occasionally come across requests for information on antimicrobial coatings and films. In the past, I pushed these off by saying I did not have any knowledge and moved onto an area I knew more about.
However, with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, hospital and public space cleanliness concerns, and increases in infections, the times have changed. It is now necessary to learn more about antimicrobial agents, and how they may affect our lives by reducing and eliminating viruses, bacteria, fungi, etc. What are some of these products, how do they work, and how do we understand them at a very basic level?
What Are Antimicrobials?
Antimicrobial products kill or slow the spread of microorganisms. Microorganisms include bacteria, viruses, protozoans, and fungi such as mold and mildew.1 You may find antimicrobial products in your home, workplace, or school.
There are many products which have antimicrobial characteristics. These products can be clear polyester or cast films (as protective laminates), fabrics and textiles, and applied coatings. The specific product may be used in different applications, have limited life of efficacy, have different compositions to aid in the interruption of the lifecycle of organisms, and may only be effective on certain pathogens.
Typically, the antimicrobial incorporates the use of silver, copper, titanium dioxide, and/or structured surfaces to interrupt the lifecycle processes of bacteria. Each of these reacts similarly by limiting the growth or replication of the cells. Some will bind with the cell and cause disruption of energy and enzyme function, plus minimize cell reproduction. Others create a physical barrier where the cells are unable to reach each other and replicate, therefore minimizing the number of bacteria, and causing eventual decay.1
What to Look for
When evaluating microbials, look for independent or government lab testing and information on data sheets to understand what pathogens the specific product may be effective against. Match the performance to the ultimate end use, and follow the manufacturer's guidelines for use, and maintenance.
It is especially important to understand that an antimicrobial is not a cleaning/disinfecting process or product. Manufacturers will provide guidelines of how to disinfect a surface with recognized protocols and cleaners prior to the installation or maintenance of the antimicrobial product.
Even after installation, microbials should not be considered a be-all and end-all in the fight against bacteria, fungi, and viruses. These agents may improve the reduction of bacteria and germs, but do not replace the proper cleaning and disinfecting attributes associated with frequent and proper hand washing and use of recognized disinfectants during cleaning.
Be diligent in your battle with bacteria, and look for government, independent lab, and real-world testing, which supports the claims of any antimicrobial product or coating.
If you missed last week's PDAA Shop Talk Happy Hour, there's still a chance to connect on this topic and more with the installation community. Check out PRINTING United Alliance's PDAA PrinterLink online forum, and learn more about resources available.
1:What are Antimicrobial Pesticides?; U.S Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Prevention, Pesticides, and Toxic Substances, Office of Pesticide Programs, U.S. Government Printing Office: Washington, DC, 2010.
Paul is an independent consultant providing direction and assistance in the use of pressure sensitive materials regarding selection, conversion & installation. He provides over 30 years’ experience working with industry leaders in printing, converting, application, training, certification programs, and product demonstrations. Paul has judged a variety of graphic design and installation competitions contests including Wrap Like A King, Wrap Masters, and other industry events.