Performance-Based Textile Cleaning and Disinfection in the Age of COVID-19
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, cleaning, sanitizing and disinfecting surfaces, including performance-based textiles, has become a major concern in all industries. Healthcare designers are accustomed to working with environmental services and infection control departments for cleaning protocols. Now, our colleagues across the design spectrum are faced with the challenge of specifying textiles that will withstand harsher cleaning agents prone to damage and degrade textiles.
HDR has a longstanding partnership with Architex Fabrics and its subsequent Remedé textile collection. While the genesis of the Remedé collection was developed around healthcare design, the collection is also appropriate for many different settings due to both its performance in durability and cleaning. The conversations around cleaning and durability, central to every Remedé textile development, are also questions that can guide every designer in their textile selection.
Four Essential Questions to Ask Before Textile Specifications
1.) What types of cleaners and disinfectants are used throughout the facility and what are their active ingredients?
It is essential for both designers and environmental services to know the active ingredient(s) of the cleaning products being used within the facility. Be sure to factor in any areas where multiple types of cleaners are used on the same surface. The majority of disinfectant cleaners can now be categorized into seven active ingredients or processes as their base for efficacy (proof of kill). To identify the active ingredient of a cleaner, simply look at Section 3 of its SDS sheet (none for UV-C Light). These ingredients provide efficacy for the various chemical products used.
7 common active ingredients in disinfectant cleaners:
- Bleach (aka sodium hypochlorite)-Based
- Quaternary Ammonium-Based
- UV-C Light-Based
Knowing the active ingredient will help ensure proper textile specification and maintenance. In addition, working with environmental services will also reveal if multiple cleaners are being used within the same space or surfaces. The ability to identify various cleaners with the same or different active ingredients used within an environment will assist in determining textile specification requirements (and to make sure your selections are approved for all active ingredients utilized).
2.) What is the frequency of cleaning and by what method?
Methods may include:
- UV-C lights
3.) Is cleaning, sanitization or disinfection required?
The CDC defines the difference between cleaning, sanitizing and disinfection as the following:
Cleaning removes germs, dirt, and impurities from all surfaces or objects. Cleaning works by using soap (or detergent) and water to physically remove germs from surfaces. This process does not necessarily kill germs, but by removing them, it lowers their numbers and the risk of spreading infection.
Sanitizing lowers the number of germs on porous surfaces or objects to a safe level, as judged by public health standards or requirements. This process works by either cleaning or disinfecting surfaces or objects to lower the risk of spreading infection.
Disinfecting kills germs on non-porous surfaces or objects. Disinfecting works by using chemicals to kill germs on surfaces or objects. This process does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs, but by killing germs on a surface after cleaning, it can further lower the risk of spreading infection.
Cleaning is required prior to sanitizing or disinfecting any surface, including textiles.
Step 1: Clean
Step 2: Sanitize (porous surfaces - woven textiles)
Step 2: Disinfect (non-porous surfaces - non-woven textiles)
In general, woven upholstery textiles are porous and therefore can only be sanitized. You cannot obtain the same level of disinfection as non-woven material due to the nature of soft surfaces — even when using disinfectants for upholstery. Use sanitizing cleaners approved for porous, soft surfaces only to prevent damage and/or disintegration of the textile. Textiles that are non-porous, such as non-wovens (ex: polyurethane, silicone, vinyl), are disinfectable. For privacy curtains, launder to CDC’s recommendation of 160° F.
Disinfecting for COVID-19: The EPA has declared their Emerging Pathogen Policy active for COVID-19. This policy happens when a new strain of a virus or bacteria presents itself, in the way the SARS virus did a few years ago. Under this policy, only EPA registered disinfectants that contain both the Human Coronavirus and SARS claim should be used to kill COVID-19.
4.) How can I make sure the fabrics I select will endure these aggressive cleaning protocols without damage or degradation?
Before specification, ensure that the selected fabrics have sustained rigorous durability testing with cleaner products. Remember, not all cleaning tests are created equal; some tests pass fabrics after one application, others after up to 4,000 applications. Once a test report is received, review the test method to determine the rigor of the test, what constitutes a ‘passing grade,’ as well as if the test is based on superficial surface evidence (color bleaching) or if it has been further tested to ensure that the cleaner did not degrade its hydrolytic stability (for non-wovens) or tensile strength (for wovens).
Ready, Set, Spec!
Armed with the above essential questions, a designer can now appropriately make textile selections best suited for the environment and cleaning regime. It’s also important to research whether a supplier has engaged a third party testing lab to administer their durability to cleaner testing and to ask what a “passing grade” for those tests involve. For example, at Architex, a textile with a passing grade undergoes rigorous (e.g., 4,000) cleaning cycles, which is the equivalent to 11 cleanings per day for a year. In addition, fabrics are tested before and after to safeguard that degradation of the fabric performance has not been compromised from the cleaning agent.
About the Authors
Marcia Vanden Brink is product development director for HDR. She works with a number of collaborative manufacturing partners to cultivate new opportunities for HDR in the product design arena.
Lauren Williams is vice president of product and marketing for Architex Fabrics. HDR and Architex Fabrics have collaborated for many years on fabric collections, including the HDR X Architex Remedé textile collections that are tested and durable to disinfectant cleaners.