Mildews Dont Cotton to These Swabs
By Jill Lee
May 26, 1997
Keeping cotton swabs mildew-free is
critical to physicians and consumers. A new sterilization treatment, using the
anti-bacterial agent methocel, can ensure green and black mildew never gain a
The key is applying methocel properly. A scientist with
USDAs Agricultural Research Service
developed effective methods for treating the swabs with this
environmentally-safe mildew killer, based on research begun at a private
company and completed at ARS.
Heat-based bleaching treatments that give cotton swabs their clean white
look usually kill microorganisms. But heat, humidity in darkness and the
cottons inner moisture can undo the bleachs protective barrier over
time. Tests with methocel show a longer-lasting protection.
The ARS scientist worked in
collaboration with engineers at a Connecticut-based cotton swab company to
solve the methocel application problem. The Connecticut company was concerned
because their swabs were stored under hot, humid conditions in a Florida
warehouse. The company engineers said the states steamy environment was
giving the microbes an unfair advantage.
The engineers estimate that preventing a mildew outbreak in the stored swabs
will save the company as much as $100,000 annually. This treatment is good news
for the entire cotton swab industry, which represents $100 million in U.S.
sales, the scientists said. Ensuring quality swabs helps protect this
value-added commodity market for cotton.
Extensive clinical tests show swabs treated with methocel are perfectly safe
for human skin. The new application method is also designed to protect plant
workers. And, at just 25 cents per pound, methocel is relatively inexpensive.
The cost is even more reasonable since less than 0.01 percent active ingredient
is needed to sterilize swabs.
Scientific contact: D. V. Parikh, ARS
Research Center, New Orleans, La. , phone (504) 286-4331, fax (504)