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Anti-viral textiles wage war on COVID-19

Features | September 13, 2021 | By:

A mask that disinfects itself at the touch of a button has been developed by scientists at Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) and Swiss research and development company Osmotex AG. Photo: Osmotex.

New treatments for textiles support the effort to contain the pandemic. 

by Debra Cobb

While prosperous countries such as the U.S. and the U.K. are successfully vaccinating large numbers of their populations against the COVID-19 virus, the majority of the world’s inhabitants are still not vaccinated and remain at great risk for contracting the disease. Masks continue to be the front line of defense, preventing the airborne or droplet transmission of the virus from person to person. 

Disposable masks or masks with filters of spun bond polypropylene are best; such filters hold an electrostatic charge that traps inbound and outbound droplets. The ubiquitous cloth “community” masks that are intended to be reused must be properly washed or sterilized to neutralize particles of virus, bacteria, and fungi. Reusable cloth masks that are washed infrequently or retain moisture can actually infect the wearer. 

But what if masks and other personal protective equipment (PPE) could be made from textiles specially treated to remove or kill viruses and other pathogens? Over the past year the global textile community has pushed hard to develop textile innovations that will do just that, making masks more effective and our environments safer. The technologies described here are a sampling of those innovations and illustrate the commitment of the textile industry in fighting this disease. 

The EZ button

A mask that disinfects itself at the touch of a button has been developed by scientists at Zurich University of Applied Sciences (ZHAW) and Swiss research and development company Osmotex AG. The Ray® Osmotex Active Sterilising Face Mask® uses Osmotex technology, based on Osmotex’ core commercialized technology for electronically controlled moisture migration in fabrics via an electro-osmotic and electro-chemical process.

The technology has a three-layer structure, consisting of a conductive textile, a membrane and another conductive textile. The push of a button sends an electric pulse which interacts with moisture in the textile to create the disinfecting compounds ozone (O3) and hydrogen peroxide (H2O2). The compounds cause an active anti-viral and anti-bacterial effect on both the inside and outside surfaces of a textile.

Osmotex launched the masks for early adopters on the crowdfunding platform Indiegogo. The company sees possibilities for a broad range of textile applications for the technology, from public transport to hospital bedding.

Chemical warfare

DiOX®, a global producer of textile chemistries and a division of LiquidNano, has launched an anti-viral finish called D4, a mechanical nano-scale coating that uses silica quaternary salts (QUATS). The chemical kills the virus on contact by piercing the outer cell membrane with millions of microscopic spikes.

Testing by SGS and Cambridge University with protocols aligned to ISO 181814 (determination of anti-viral activity of textile products) has shown that 99.7 percent of viral pathogens introduced to masks treated with D4 are eliminated within one hour. The treated masks are reusable up to 20 launderings, and need only to be washed when dirty, not after every wear. The DiOx D4 masks are made in Europe and distributed by LiquidNano.

Killing microbes with metals

A nanoscale zinc treatment is the key to the LOG3 anti-viral mask from Claros Technologies, St. Paul, Minn., a spinoff from the University of Minnesota. A proprietary zinc solution is embedded into the textile and heated to form non-leaching zinc nanoparticles. The technology was developed through funding from the Dept. of Defense/ U.S. Army and the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture.

The company says its new treatment, called ZioShield, kills viruses on contact, reaching over 99.9 percent inactivation within 10 minutes, and remains effective through as many as 100 launderings. The treatment, which inactivates viruses by disintegrating the viral envelope, was tested on alpha coronavirus as a surrogate to SARS-CoV-2. Tests also show that the particle filtration efficiency of the LOG3 mask is significantly higher than that of surgical masks. The Claros LOG3 mask is marketed by ZioWear.

HeiQ Materials AG, a global leader in textile and materials innovation based in Switzerland, uses copper in their HeiQ MetalliQ anti-viral surgical mask. The patent-pending technology was created by HeiQ’s innovation partner, Australian materials technology company, Xefco.

The ultra-thin, pure copper coating is applied via a vapor deposition process that surrounds each fiber with a minute amount of copper. The copper ions prevent pathogen cell respiration and punch holes in its walls or membranes, as well as destroying the pathogen’s DNA or RNA.

Studies conducted by the Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity in Melbourne, Australia, indicated that the technology significantly deactivated the COVID-19 virus in as little as five minutes. According to HeiQ, the copper-treated materials have also been tested to kill 100 percent of Staphylococcus aureus and Klebsiella pneumoniae, and deactivate 99.95 percent of H1N1 virus and 99.9 percent of Human Coronavirus 229E. The HeiQ MetalliQ mask is available in Europe via the company’s website.

The copper in HeiQ’s MetalliQ mask has been shown to deactivate the COVID-19 virus. Photo: HeiQ.

Beyond masks

HeiQ Viroblock NPJ03 is a textile finishing treatment combining silver antimicrobial technology and vesicle technology, which rapidly destroys enveloped viruses including coronaviruses. Tests conducted by HeiQ with the Doherty Institute showed that treated fabric achieved 99.99 percent reduction of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the laboratory. Fabrics treated with HeiQ Viroblock, known as HeiQ V-Block in the U.S., also demonstrate strong antimicrobial efficacy.

The treatment may be used for clothing, home textiles and accessories such as face masks and gloves, and is effective for at least 30 washes. HeiQ V-Block is featured in the JUST 5 anti-viral jacket by 2A, which has been successfully crowd-funded on Kickstarter and Indiegogo.

Germany’s PyroTex Industries GmbH, makers of heat and flame-resistant acrylic fiber, has created the first fiber found to incapacitate viruses (SARS-CoV-2, H3N2, MS2), bacteria (Klebsiella Pn., S. Aureus; E. Coli) and fungi (Aspergillus Niger). PyroTex® Medic demonstrated an activity of 99.57 percent (99 percent after 14 seconds) against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, as confirmed by an independent, ISO certified laboratory according to ISO 18184: 2019. The PyroTex fiber can be utilized in a wide range of textiles for masks, PPE, general clothing and commercial environments.

U.K. apparel company Inner Mettle Inc. Ltd. has developed a copper-integrated nylon/spandex fabric called IM ViroBac which will reduce the risk of bacterial or viral transmission via surface contact in commercial settings such as public transport, medical facilities and hospitality. The fabric showed negligible loss of copper ions after 40 washes. Tested on human coronavirus 229E, the ViroBac fabric destroys 97.5 percent of the virus within 30 minutes. The company website emphasizes that the fabric was not tested for the SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) virus.

Made in France from Italian fabrics and Swiss electronics, Spinali Design’s smart gloves destroy bacteria, viruses and other harmful microbes when exposed to UV light. The fabric is treated with titanium dioxide, which reacts with the UV-A and UV-B radiation in natural light to eliminate the microbes, thanks to the principle of photocatalysis.

The gloves are designed to work with an accompanying app and UV-C source box to self-disinfect with artificial light when the sun is not shining. UV-C light, which is blocked by the ozone layer, is a germicidal, ionizing radiation at shorter wavelengths.

The gloves contain a BLE (Bluetooth low energy) sensor which measures UV quantity over time to make sure that the gloves are fully disinfected. Using UV-C artificial light, it takes 30 seconds to disinfect at 99.99 percent. The gloves (with sensor) are washable, and the battery will last for 300 days at 8 hours per day.

Masks matter most

According to the latest guidance from the CDC, “The principal mode by which people are infected with SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) is through exposure to respiratory fluids carrying infectious virus. Current evidence strongly suggests transmission from contaminated surfaces does not contribute substantially to new infections.”

Not all anti-viral textiles are proven effective against SARS-CoV-2. While wearing a well-fitting mask made from textiles with proven filtration efficiency is the best protection from COVID-19 exposure, the use of antimicrobial and anti-viral textiles may help to keep masks, as well as our surroundings, clean and sanitary. 

Debra Cobb is a freelance writer, based in North Carolina, with expertise in the textile industry. She is a frequent contributor to Advanced Textiles Source. 

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