The Truth About Antimicrobial and Antiviral Textiles

Before diving into this one, I’d like you to read this excerpt from The National Center for Biotechnology Information website:

“Another approach is to promote the polymerization of N-halamine monomers or monomers bearing N−H function by themselves or with other monomers to generate biocidal homopolymers or heteropolymers [85]. Ahmed et al., for instance, synthesized a novel N-halamine polyurethane by copolymerizing a heterocyclic ring-based monomer with either tolylene-2,6-diisocyanate or toluene-2,4-diisocyanate, resulting in halogenated polyurethanes, namely chlorinated, brominated or iodinated [88].”

I’m pretty sure your eyes started to glaze over by about the 10th word because is this even English? The world of antimicrobial treatments is a complicated one, and there is a lot of scientific jargon to sift through when researching it. To save you the headache, I’ve done a lot of the sifting and will give you the key takeaways from what I discovered. I do recommend visiting the link above if you want more detailed information as it relates to specific types of antimicrobials and how they work. The article does a good job of providing a full scope of information about the topic.

Antimicrobials have been around for many years, but recently they’ve been even more in the spotlight because of COVID19, and some of you may have seen the term “COVIDwashing” being used. Some companies are capitalizing on the pandemic by falsely marketing their products as being capable of curing or repelling the virus. And while some companies don’t make any outright claims about the effectiveness of their products on COVID19 specifically, they are still using marketing ploys to let the consumer come to those conclusions on their own, creating a false sense of security and protection. (Source)

When you see clothing and other textile products marketed as antimicrobial, there are a few things you should be aware of. First of all, there are so many types of antimicrobials on the market and some are way worse than others as far as toxicity is concerned, so if you decide to buy clothing that is advertised as antimicrobial, you should ask the brand you’re buying from more information about which kind they use if you're not sure. One of the biggest concerns surrounding the increasing use of these antimicrobial agents is the potential for microorganisms to become resistant to them and spawning a new generation of super bugs. Also, the majority of these antimicrobials are specifically targeting fungi and bacteria, NOT viruses. There have been several articles coming out recently about the effectiveness of antimicrobials and antivirals on clothing. A lot of brands are claiming their antiviral fabrics are effective against viruses like COVID19, but there is still a lot of researching and testing that should be done not only on these antiviral agents but on the virus itself. (Source)


Another disturbing fact is that the antimicrobials can end up in our water supply if not properly removed during waste-water treatments. And given that a massive amount of textiles end up in landfills (see previous blog about sustainability), this is inevitable. And before they end up in the water, they are being absorbed by you through your skin. There is not enough research yet to know the long-term effects antimicrobials have on human health:

“For all of the antimicrobial agents presented in this review, there are no conclusions regarding their skin toxicity and effects on human health. In the case of triclosan, its toxicity is a concern, as it is suspected that it may act as an endocrine disrupter and has been observed to be distributed in human tissues. In the case of Si-QAC (silane quaternary ammonium compounds), according to some studies, no severe effect on human health was observed. In the case of metallic compounds, ZnPT (zinc pyrithione), for instance, may present some risks of neurotoxicity [9,26].”


There is some promising research being done on producing antimicrobials derived from more natural substances, but currently there is no silver bullet agent that can claim instant effectiveness on fungi, bacteria and viruses, while also having a neutral impact on humans and the environment. And until there is, I’ll be using good, old-fashioned soap and water.