science

The Next Generation Of Sustainable And Durable Anti-Microbial Technology For Cotton

Published: April 12, 2023
Author: DIGITAL MEDIA EXECUTIVE

There’s no denying that sustainability is likely to shape the future of many industries, as both manufacturers and consumers strive to strike a balance between consumption and being environmentally conscious. The textile industry is no exception, as the premature disposal of products adds to the mountains of waste in landfill each year. In 2018 alone, 11.8 million tons of textiles were disposed of in landfills, which is more than half of the 17 million tons that were produced in the same year.1 The main sources of discarded textiles are goods that are considered non-durable, including clothes, furniture, sheets and towels.1 Environmental organizations, retailers and consumers have all expressed concerns about the impact of textiles on the planet, with many calling for the industry to move away from ‘fast fashion’ – cycling textiles in and out of the market quickly – towards more durable and sustainable fabrics. With this issue now high on the agenda for many stakeholders, there will be no escaping the implementation of sustainable manufacturing practices in the future, and manufacturers should act now to stay ahead of the curve. 

A microscopic problem with catastrophic consequences

The growth of microorganisms can significantly contribute to the premature disposal of textiles. Microbes transferred by skin contact or from the environment can cling to fabrics, resulting in unpleasant odors, staining and physical degradation leading to issues such as reduced tensile strength. This increases the need for frequent water- and energy-intensive laundering, using strong chemicals and detergents. The combination of frequent laundering and biodeterioration from microbial growth can lead to irreversible damage, limiting the useful lifetime of products and, ultimately, resulting in their premature disposal.

Cotton fabrics are particularly susceptible to microbial growth, given their natural structure and use for clothing and home furnishings, such as bed linen and towels. It is essential that these products must wash clean, as they frequently come into close contact with human skin and sweat, making them susceptible to microbial growth that can cause odors and staining. Natural cotton fibers are hydrophilic and therefore have a strong capability to absorb moisture from skin or the environment. In addition, due to its porous structure, cotton fibers can absorb oxygen and nutrients, providing ideal breeding conditions for odor-causing microbes. When combined with the humidity and warm temperature of human bodies, this means that textiles made from cotton are readily attacked by the action of bacterial extracellular enzymes unless properly protected. The resulting visible damage to fabric can negatively impact a user’s overall experience, reducing the product’s useful lifetime.

Sustainably combating microbial growth

This issue is driving the market for antimicrobial technologies that can be built into cotton and cotton-blend fabrics to provide lasting product protection against the growth of microorganisms. As successful as these products are, the anti-microbial sector itself is also shifting towards more sustainable solutions. Until recently, heavy metal-based agents have been the gold standard for antimicrobials, with strong and proven efficiency against microbial growth. However, there is an increasing demand to move away from the use of heavy metals for more sustainably manufactured products with improved environmental profiles. In addition, current antimicrobial finishes have limited wash durability, meaning that their efficacy is diminished after a small number of home launderings, limiting their ability to improve fabric longevity. The next generation of antimicrobial finishes needs to be based on non-heavy metal chemistries to align with sustainability initiatives and provide high wash fastness, meeting the needs of both manufacturers and consumers. 

DuraTech™ by Microban® as the solution 

DuraTech by Microban has been developed to address this need and provide antimicrobial product protection without relying on heavy metals. The technology tethers to cotton cellulose, imparting long-lasting antimicrobial efficacy. When a treated cotton fabric is contaminated with bacteria, this technology will penetrate the bacterial cell membrane, inhibiting its ability to grow and reproduce. By tackling microbial growth at the source, treated cotton products stay fresher and cleaner for longer, extending their usable lifetime. 

The antimicrobial efficacy and wash durability of DuraTech antimicrobial technology has been stringently tested using methodologies. This involved testing multiple cotton fabrics with DuraTech for antimicrobial efficacy against common bacterial organisms according to the ISO 20743, JIS L 1902, and AATCC TM 100 standard testing methods. These tests were carried out before and after 75 launderations to determine wash durability, following the AATCC LP1 washing protocol on 100 % apparel knit, 100 % woven sheeting and 100 % terry cotton fabrics. The reduction of odor on DuraTech-treated cotton products was also tested with the AATCC TM211 Drager method. Fabric properties of pH, colorfastness to laundering, and crocking fastness were also evaluated by following AATCC TM 81, AATCC TM 61-2A, and AATCC TM 8, respectively. 

These tests showed that levels of bacteria were reduced by up to 99.99 % on Duratech-treated fabrics compared to untreated controls for terry towels and sheeting, demonstrating strong antimicrobial efficacy. After 75 home launderings, all treated samples achieved up to 99 % odor reduction compared to untreated controls, showing that Duratech provides superior wash durability far exceeding the current industry standard. Other fabric properties – such as pH, colorfastness to launderings, and crocking fastness – were not hampered by the incorporation or action of the technology. Therefore, DuraTech is proven to provide lasting protection against the growth of microorganisms without impacting existing fabric properties. 

Manufacturing excellence

Duratech has been meticulously designed to deliver a product that meets the needs of cotton manufacturers for various applications, including sheeting and towels for home textiles, hospitality, and apparel. It is available as a manufacturing-friendly kit containing the key antimicrobial ingredient and a water-soluble catalyst, so that it can be seamlessly applied to cotton fabric and cotton-rich blends during the padding phase in a one-step process. This easy-to-use kit doesn’t require any polymeric binders to ensure the fastness. As a water-soluble and non-ionic technology, DuraTech is designed to be mill-friendly, and is compatible with most anionic, non-ionic, and cationic textile auxiliaries without concern for roller build-up or settlement during storage and application. This improves the shelf life of the technology and reduces unnecessary waste from imperfect or spoiled batches.

DuraTech is also a well-accredited technology, and is registered with the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Crucially, it is safe for handlers, users, and the environment when used under the correct conditions, as it readily biodegrades. rapidly breaks

Summary 

Pressure to address concerns about the environmental impacts of textiles manufacturing is driving the market for antimicrobial technologies. These chemistries can help to combat the detrimental impacts of microbial growth and, ultimately, increase the longevity of cotton fabrics. However, the next generation of antimicrobial technologies need to transition away from heavy metals and provide enhanced wash durability for long-lasting and sustainable product protection. DuraTech by Microban can meet all of these needs and, in doing so, is set to push the boundaries of the textile industries, delivering a non-heavy metal antimicrobial technology that can provide unparalleled wash durability and is compatible with sustainable cotton textile manufacturing processes. 

By:Yihong Li, Senior Technical Manager, Textiles, and Xiuzhu Fei, Senior Engineer, Microban International

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