Inventor Jason Locklin is surrounded by his project team; (left) Vikram Dhende, graduate student, and (right) Ian Hardin, a professor in the College of Family and Consumer Sciences.
A University of Georgia (UGA) researcher has invented a new technology that can inexpensively render medical linens and clothing, face masks, paper towelsand yes, even diapers, intimate apparel and athletic wear, including smelly sockspermanently germ-free.
The simple and inexpensive antimicrobial technology works on natural and synthetic materials. The technology can be applied during the manufacturing process or at home, and it doesnt come out in the wash. Unlike other antimicrobial technologies, repeated applications are unnecessary to maintain effectiveness.
"The spread of pathogens on textiles and plastics is a growing concern, especially in healthcare facilities and hotels, which are ideal environments for the proliferation and spread of very harmful microorganisms, but also in the home," saya Jason Locklin, the inventor, who is an assistant professor of chemistry in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and on the Faculty of Engineering.
The antimicrobial treatment invented by Locklin, which is available for licensing from the University of Georgia Research Foundation, Inc., effectively kills a wide spectrum of bacteria, yeasts and molds that can cause disease, break down fabrics, create stains and produce odors.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately one of every 20 hospitalized patients will contract a healthcare-associated infection. Lab coats, scrub suits, uniforms, gowns, gloves and linens are known to harbor the microbes that cause patient infections.
Consumers concern about harmful microbes has spurred the market for clothing, undergarments, footwear and home textiles with antimicrobial products. But to be practical, both commercial and consumer anti-microbial products must be inexpensive and lasting.
"Similar technologies are limited by cost of materials, use of noxious chemicals in the application or loss of effectiveness after a few washings," says Gennaro Gama, UGARF senior technology manager. "Locklins technology uses ingeniously simple, inexpensive and scalable chemistry."
Gama said the technology is simple to apply in the manufacturing of fibers, fabrics, filters and plastics. It also can bestow antimicrobial properties on finished products, such as athletic wear and shoes, and textiles for the bedroom, bathroom and kitchen.
"The advantage of UGARFs technology over competing methods," says Gama, "is that the permanent antimicrobial can be applied to a product at any point of the manufacture-sale-use continuum. In contrast, competing technologies require blending of the antimicrobial in the manufacturing process."
"In addition," says Gama, "If for some reason the antimicrobial layer is removed from an articlethrough abrasion, for exampleit can be reapplied by simple spraying."
Other markets for the antimicrobial technology include military apparel and gear, food packaging, plastic furniture, pool toys, medical and dental instrumentation, bandages and plastic items.
Locklin said the antimicrobial was tested against many of the pathogens common in healthcare settings, including staph, strep, E. coli, Pseudomonas and Acetinobacter. After just a single application, no bacterial growth was observed on the textile samples added to the cultureeven after 24 hours at 37 degrees Celsius.
Moreover, in testing, the treatment remained fully active after multiple hot water laundry cycles, demonstrating the antibacterial does not leach out from the textiles even under harsh conditions. "Leaching could hinder the applicability of this technology in certain industrial segments, such as food packaging, toys, IV bags and tubing, for example," says Gama.
Thin films of the new technology also can be used to change other surface properties of both cellulose- and polymer-based materials. "It can change a materials optical propertiescolor, reflectance, absorbance and iridescenceand make it repel liquids, all without changing other properties of the material," adds Gama.
A paper on the new technology was published by Locklin and colleagues online June 21 in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Chemical Society.