A University of Georgia scientist has discovered how to make clothing—stinky socks and gym shoes, included—permanently germ-free. Developed by Jason Locklin, an assistant professor of chemistry in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, the process involves spraying a thin coat of chemicals onto textiles and other materials. The antimicrobial agent, which bonds to the surface after exposure to ultraviolet light, comprises microscopic spikes that pierce though bacterial cell walls upon contact, killing them medieval-style. And unlike other chemical treatments, Locklin’s invention won’t wash off, even after multiple hot-water laundry cycles.
In a paper published in the June 2011 issue of the journal Applied Materials and Interfaces, Locklin writes that his solution kills a host of dangerous pathogens, including E. coli, staph, strep, and acetinobacter, on both natural (cotton, wool) and synthetic fibers (woven plastic). The breakthrough could sanitize hospital linens, face masks, and even diapers, he says.
One out of 20 hospitalized patients will contract an infection from microbe-harboring lab coats or scrubs, says the CDC.
Microbe-fearing consumers have driven the market for antibacterial garments, footwear, and toys, but cost and effectiveness have always been detriments. “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, senior technology manager at the university. “Locklin’s technology uses ingeniously simple, inexpensive, and scalable chemistry.”
Because the treatment doesn’t wear or flake off, chances of the agent migrating into the environment are slim.
The technology doesn’t just pander to germaphobes, either. Roughly one out of every 20 hospitalized patients will contract a healthcare-related infection from microbe-harboring lab coats, hospital scrubs, gowns, gloves, or linens, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Because the treatment doesn’t wear or flake off, even after heavy agitation, chances of the agent migrating into the environment and harming beneficial bacteria are slim. The film can also be used to change the surface properties of cellulose- and polymer-based materials. “It can change a material’s optical properties—color, reflectance, absorbance, and iridescence—and make it repel liquids,” Gama adds, “all without changing other properties of the material.”