Textile Treatment Keeps Microbes at Bay
By Jan Suszkiw
June 8, 1999
A textile treatment that has improved
thermal adaptability, absorbency and other desirable properties in fabric may
offer yet another benefit, scientists say.
In lab tests, coating cotton, polyester and other fabrics with nontoxic
polymers called polyethylene glycols (PEG) reduced by almost 100 percent the
growth of several common fungi and bacteria. Most, like odor-causing
Brevibacterium epidermidis bacteria, grow in socks and other clothing by
The PEGs apparently mar the fibers surface so that the biofibrils
cant attach. The substances may also dehydrate the microbes, rupturing
their cell membranes, according to Agricultural Research Service chemist
Tyrone Vigo and University of Georgia
Leonas. ARS is the U.S. Department of
Agricultures chief scientific agency.
ARS Vigo and colleagues originally developed the PEG treatments
several years ago to improve comfort, wear and other properties of textiles
like cotton. Commercial applications--from licensee Wisconsin Global
Technologies Ltd.--include sportswear and apparel that retain or release body
heat as needed. Another licensee, Bayshore Holding, Inc., uses the technology
for health care products like underpads for incontinence.
Last year, as part of a CRADA, the group decided to confirm and explain
earlier observations that PEG treatments also impart antimicrobial properties,
a trait clothing and textile manufacturers are keen to exploit, says Vigo, with
Textile Chemistry Research Unit in New Orleans.
The scientists found a nearly complete decrease in microbe and fungal growth
after lab tests in which swaths of cotton-polyester bedsheets were inoculated
with spores of Brevibacterium, Staphylococcus epideremidis
bacteria, and Aspergillus fumigatus and Microsporum cookel fungi.
Both fungi can cause allergies and asthma. Staph bacteria can cause
skin, wound and other infections.
In untreated fabrics, scientists observed minor reductions, most likely from
additives briefly present after processing. A fifth pathogen, the yeast
Candida albicans, was unaffected by the PEG-treated fabrics.
Another benefit: scientists believe PEGs antimicrobial action is more
physical than chemical, so fabric-infecting germs should be less apt to develop
Scientific contact: Tyrone Vigo, ARS
Research Center, New Orleans, La., phone (504) 286-4487, fax (504)