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Antimicrobials redefine the future of cleaner, more sustainable flooring

JONATHAN Clapp, international senior technical manager at Microban International, discusses antimicrobial additives and their ability to enhance the cleanliness and sustainability of floors.

Carpets and floors are subject to a whole host of grime and microbes. Carried inside by shoes and feet, microbes are always present, no matter how often the home, school, or business is cleaned. Some commercial businesses – such as shopping centres and supermarkets – may be visited by hundreds, or even thousands, of people each day.

A study carried out by the University of Arizona showed that, appallingly, 96% of those shoes are contaminated by an array of microorganisms, including faecal bacteria. The study revealed that it was possible to track the bacteria over long distances and, if a surface came into contact with the microbes, the risk of contamination was 90-99%.

Built-in antimicrobial additive technologies can help address these challenges on all types of flooring materials, keeping surfaces cleaner and more sustainable by inhibiting the growth of harmful and degrading microbes.

Unspotted vinyl
Vinyl has long been a popular choice for flooring, thanks to its durability and value for money. However, it’s particularly susceptible to staining owing to growth of mould and mildew, especially in areas such as kitchens, bathrooms, and laundry rooms that are frequently exposed to spills and higher humidity. Antimicrobial technology can be added to all three layers of vinyl – foam, vinyl, and surface topcoat – prior to extrusion, calendaring or coating. This preserves the aesthetic of the floor for longer, by inhibiting the growth of these stain-causing microbes.

Unsoiled tiles
And it’s not just vinyl that suffer from infestations. 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 are the dirtiest surface in a bathroom – unrivalled even by the toilet seat –with some harbouring over two million bacteria per sq inch.

Washing tiles may be considered easy, 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, simply owing to the high levels of footfall.

Luckily, 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 combined with infused tiles.

Unstained carpets
Although carpets are a popular choice in home living areas and bedrooms, many forget that just as any other surface, they require regular cleaning. 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.

Since it’s been revealed 75% of people don’t always remove their shoes when they step on carpets, it’s not surprising they 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.

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

In addition, as they are made from natural products, making incorporating built-in chemistries more challenging. Instead, a thin urethane top layer infused with antimicrobial properties can be added to the surface. This does not affect the quality or appearance of the wood, but successfully adds a layer of protection from microbes.

Immaculate laminate
Laminate is a common choice for flooring in spaces where hygiene is critical, such as healthcare, consumer, and commercial environments, and is also commonly used 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 therefore do not permit the marketing of any laminates as being antimicrobial unless they contain a registered biocide. Antimicrobial laminate protection can be seamlessly integrated into HPL during the final resin bath of the impregnation process, resulting in a laminate surface that’s protected from microbial growth, which complements existing cleaning practices to reduce the risk of cross-contamination.

No matter which floor finish is required – from traditional materials such as tiles and vinyl, to more niche flooring such as artificial turf and cork – it’s possible to incorporate antimicrobial technologies into the final product at the stage of manufacture. 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 won’t wash off or wear away, even in high traffic areas, to support regular cleaning. Antimicrobial additives put pioneering flooring manufacturers at the cutting edge of innovation. Not only does antimicrobial product protection help preserve the quality of flooring for longer, it also offers peace of mind to consumers, who’re increasingly looking for options that are easy to keep clean.

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