Antimicrobial linens: are they worth it?

With COVID at the forefront of everyone's minds these days, germs and microbes have become a major concern. Manufacturers across the world are coming up with treatments designed to protect us against harmful bacteria, microbes, and other organisms. Companies in the bed and bath industry are part of that movement. Which is especially important, given how much time we spend in the bedroom and the bathroom.

The term "antimicrobial" has become a large part of the marketing rhetoric. As with any new technology, we should always do our due diligence and ask some important questions:  Is it safe? Is there an adverse impact to us or our environment?  Will this really make a difference or is this a marketing ploy designed to play into our fears?

In this blog, we will discuss and explore the topic of antimicrobial products that are quickly becoming popular within the home linen industry.


What Does "Antimicrobial" Mean?

The word "antimicrobial" means that the fabric offers protection against bacteria, mildew, mold and many other harmful microbes that can grow in warm, moist environments. One example is sweaty and overused bed linens. Antimicrobial products are made in a couple of different ways. One way is to spin antimicrobial fibers into a yarn, which is then woven into a fabric. This method is common with silver threads. Another way to create an antimicrobial fabric is to add a topical solution to the dye and/or finishing process.

Are Antimicrobial Products Safe?

Now we get to one of the most important questions: Are antimicrobial products safe?  The answer is complex.

Hospitals have been using bed linens treated with antimicrobial technology for years. So this would suggest that, yes, they are safe... Right? Well, look at the FDA's regulations. If Antimicrobial products are heavily regulated, and for good reason; They are considered a pesticide within the US. This means all antimicrobial treatments are required to undergo testing to ensure they are non-toxic to both the consumer and the environment, while meeting FDA requirements.

Are Antimicrobial Products Safe for the Environment?

If the manufacturer has used products that meet the FDA guidelines, we can safely assume that humans are protected from the toxic side affects antimicrobial products pose.  But what about the environment?  Even with FDA tests ensuring the product is non-toxic, there is still one fundamental and important point to note about any antimicrobial product: It's highly efficient at killing bacteria. This sounds positive, but that isn't always the case.

When we wash our bed linens and towels, these antimicrobial treatments and additives wash out of our linens and leach into our water systems.  Antimicrobial particles are able to withstand water and detergent which means they get flushed out into the environment. Once these particles are unleashed, they will continue to destroy all bacteria, good and bad.

Environmentalists are alarmed at the sharp increase in the use of products containing antimicrobial properties. In small amounts, this may seem insignificant. However, this rise in popularity will contribute to the killing of beneficial bacteria, aquatic organisms and the millions of other microorganisms that maintain the health the planet. Considering the population of the world who may be purchasing antimicrobial products, suddenly this trend poses a serious environmental risk. Furthermore, hurting our environment and ecosystems, can have a domino affect and harm human lives as well.


Are there any GOOD Antimicrobial Fabrics?

Over the years there have been several fabrics that have been touted as being naturally antimicrobial and antibacterial.

Bamboo is one such product. Yet in recent studies, including a report by the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) there isn't any conclusive evidence to prove these claims.  In fact, the part of the bamboo plant that contains those coveted antimicrobial components is the sheath that protects the bamboo. The sheath is removed and only the inner part of the bamboo is processed into rayon that is then turned into fabric meaning you miss out on the antimicrobial component.

Unfortunately, this seems to be the common theme for all "natural" antimicrobial products in the market. There isn't substantial research to back up the claims.

What Can I Do to Protect My Family from Bad Bacteria?

Our conclusion from the research gathered so far is that to keep yourself and your family safe during this time, it's important to focus on a cleaning routine that fits your lifestyle.  Keep a list of daily chores and do them until they feel like a normal habit.

For example: Stock up on cleaning materials, place a caddy in each bathroom, and have your family clean the space when they're done. Regularly wiping down counters in high-traffic areas at the end of each day will be beneficial as well. Clean out your sink every day to prevent new germs from forming. One of the most valuable pieces of advice we can give is to clean as you go. If you see something that needs a wipe down or deep clean, don't wait for the weekend - do it in the moment.

It's true: Bed and bath linens can be a major source of bacteria. This is the result of sweat, moisture and heat.  The best answer to combating the germs and bacteria on your linens is to wash them! It is that simple. Clothes, towels, and bedding should be washed on a regular schedule. Change or wash your bedding at least once per week. If you are sweaty or work in a dirty environment, shower before you get into bed and switch out towels regularly.  Keep an adequate amount of linens so you can change them more frequently. And bonus tip: Wash in smaller loads to make "laundry day" less of a hassle.



Our Final Thoughts: Are Antimicrobial Linens Worth It?

When it comes down to it, there isn't evidence that antimicrobials will actually kill the COVID-19 virus.  However, antimicrobials are effective in their mission to destroy bacteria and microbes. Even so, with the lack of distinction between good and bad, the environmental risk seems too high for comfort. If we're being honest, it's an unnecessary expense when all you need is to wash your bedding more frequently with a good quality detergent and warm water. If your product allows, throw in a cap of diluted bleach with each wash for peace of mind.

Here at Essell Home we like to do our research before bringing on new products.  We don't want to entice you with fancy marketing, empty promises, or industry terms that feed into your fears. As we move forward, looking for new and exciting things to bring to you, we always keep your safety and enjoyment in mind. If something does come up that ticks all the boxes, you will be the first to know!

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