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Antimicrobial power beneath your feet

Jonathan Clapp gives a detailed analysis on antimicrobial additives and their ability to keep floors cleaner for longer.

CARPETS and floors, whether in the home, schools or businesses, are subject to a whole host of grime and microbes carried in on shoes and feet. Some commercial businesses, such as shopping centres and supermarkets may be trodden through by hundreds, or even thousands of people each day and, in a study carried out by the University of Arizona, 96% of shoes were found to be contaminated with faecal bacteria, as well as an array of other microorganisms.

The study revealed the bacteria could be tracked over a long distance after contamination, and the transfer rate – for example, on to clean surfaces – was 90-99 %. Built-in antimicrobial additive technologies can help address these challenges on all options of flooring materials, keeping floor surfaces cleaner by inhibiting the growth of microbes.

Cleaner carpets
Carpet is a popular choice in the home for living areas and bedrooms, but carpet cleaning is often bottom of the list of chores. Even for those who follow the recommended guidance of having carpets professionally cleaned every 12-18 months, that is still plenty of time for microbial populations to accumulate.

With 75 % of people revealing that they don’t always remove their shoes to walk on carpets it’s not surprising that carpets can be up to 4,000 times dirtier than a toilet bowl. Carpets manufactured with built-in antimicrobial technology are inherently cleaner; the treatment works 24/7 to fight the reproduction of bacteria, mould and mildew and also prevents the stains and odours that can be associated with the build-up of microbial populations.

Tremendous for tiles
And it’s not just carpets that suffer from bacterial infestation. Tiles are a popular flooring choice, not only in bathrooms and kitchens but also in commercial and retail premises.

However, studies have shown that bathroom floor tiles – and not the expected toilet seat – are the dirtiest surface in a bathroom, with some harbouring more than 2m bacteria per sq in.

Washing tiles may be easier than cleaning carpets, but common disinfectants are only a short-term solution as they provide limited residual activity, allowing bacterial populations to quickly regrow. A tiled shop floor that has been washed will quickly be re-populated purely due to the high levels of footfall.

Antimicrobial chemistries can be added at the point of manufacture to a whole range of tiling materials. For ceramic tiles, the antimicrobial compound is incorporated as part of the ceramic glaze during the firing process, and for luxury vinyl tiles (LVTs) it can be added into both the surface wear layer and the pre-attached underlay. These technologies can even be mixed into adhesives and grouts during manufacture, offering a solid barrier to bacterial build-up when they’re combined with infused tiles.

Helping hardwood
Solid hardwood floors are an elegant feature and a popular choice to add style in homes and commercial premises. While they may be associated with a high-end finish, microbes do not discriminate. Disinfecting hardwood floors is trickier than with other hard flooring options as moisture and harsh chemicals are not recommended.

They’re also made from natural products, which makes built-in options more challenging. Instead, a thin urethane top layer infused with antimicrobial properties can be added to the surface. This doesn’t affect the quality or appearance of the wood but successfully adds a layer of protection from microbes.

Victory for vinyl
Vinyl remains a popular choice for flooring due to its durability and value for money. However, it is particularly susceptible to staining from the growth of mould and mildew, especially in areas exposed to spills and higher humidity, such as kitchens, bathrooms and laundry rooms.

Antimicrobial technology can be added to all three layers of vinyl – foam, vinyl and surface topcoat – prior to extrusion, calendering or coating, and this preserves the aesthetic of the floor for longer by inhibiting the growth of these stain-causing microbes.

Leading laminate
Laminate is regularly used for flooring in hygiene-critical spaces such as healthcare, consumer and commercial environments, and is also a popular choice as an alternative to tiles and vinyl in homes. Antimicrobial technologies can be easily and cost-effectively implemented by laminate manufacturers.

High-pressure laminate (HPL) is a thermosetting material and has a natural resistance to microbial proliferation owing to the presence of formaldehyde. However, these properties have a limited lifespan and will eventually wear off. Global biocidal regulations also do not permit the marketing of any laminates as being antimicrobial unless they contain a registered biocide.

Antimicrobial laminate protection can be seamlessly introduced into HPL during the final resin bath of the impregnation process. The result is a laminate surface that is protected from microbial growth, ultimately reducing the risk of cross-contamination, and complementing existing cleaning practices.

Whatever floor finish is required – from traditional materials such as tiles and vinyl, to more niche flooring such as artificial turf and cork – manufacturers can incorporate antimicrobial technologies into the final product. Most importantly, all of this can be done without affecting the quality, design or finish of the floor. The technology is built-in so it will not wash off or wear away, even in high traffic areas, supporting regular cleaning.

Antimicrobial additives place pioneering flooring manufacturers at the cutting edge of flooring innovation. Not only does antimicrobial product protection help preserve the quality of flooring for longer, but it also offers peace of mind to consumers, who are increasingly looking for options that are easy to keep clean.

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