Scratching the True Surface of Antimicrobial Coatings

As the world clamors for new and improved solutions for cleaning and disinfection in response to the COVID-19 crisis, a staggering number of products have flooded the market with varying degrees of utility and/or truthful advertising (see our articles on fogging machines and UV light.)

One such product is continuously active antimicrobial surface coatings, which are being promoted as a way to keep your facilities virus-free for an extended period of time, anywhere from 48 hours up to one week.

Many people assume (or hope) that after applying these products to surfaces, bacteria and viruses will be unable to grow or spread, decreasing the need for repeated cleaning and disinfecting, thereby providing both increased safety and peace of mind. As is often the case, however, the reality is far more complicated and less of a solution than we might wish it to be.

Only One Front Runner

When evaluating and considering using an antimicrobial surface coating in your infection-prevention planning, it is best to keep in mind that to date, only one has earned EPA approval—and only for extremely limited use. 

SurfaceWise2, manufactured by Allied BioScience, has been granted an EPA COVID-19 emergency approval waiver for use for one year by American Airlines in airplanes that fly through Texas and in two physical therapy clinics located in Texas.

According to its manufacturer, the antimicrobial surface coating inactivates viruses and bacteria within two hours of application and continues to combat them for up to seven days. In independent lab testing conducted using 229E, the approved surrogate for the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19, the coating showed promising results and has been submitted for approval in all 50 states.

Yet Allied BioScience itself cautions that its product is “not a replacement for routine cleaning and disinfection.” Meanwhile, some have expressed concern regarding its safety, mostly surrounding its potential for skin, eye, and respiratory-tract irritation caused by contact and/or its spray mode of application.

Buyer Beware

It bears repeating that, to date, no antimicrobial surface coating other than SmartWise2 has been EPA-approved. Unlike disinfectants, which undergo rigorous testing as part of the EPA-approval process, currently there are no protocols or science in place to guarantee the results of testing continuously active antimicrobial surface coatings. Most of these products are intended for use against bacteria to help with things like odor control and have not been proven effective against SARS-CoV-2—or any other virus. In fact, claiming any of these coatings can protect against COVID-19 is illegal.

Complement Not Replace

The idea of long-lasting disinfection of surfaces is exciting. However, a few points to keep in mind:

  • Continuously active antimicrobial surface coatings can be used as an additional defense, but there are no shortcuts. Regular cleaning and disinfecting remain the best ways to combat COVID-19. These steps must be done before and after the coating is applied to remove buildup that can prevent the coatings from having any impact and actually attract pathogens.
  • Antimicrobial surface coatings remain effective only as long as the integrity of the layer is maintained. Environmental conditions, such as traffic, temperature, air flow, cleaning, and disinfecting processes, can all impact the integrity of the layer.
  • Use of these coatings may make more sense in areas where regular cleaning and disinfecting is more difficult, such as airplanes and other fast-turn around environments.

The bottom line: Antimicrobial surface coatings may become more common in the future, but that will require extensive testing, and the marketplace remains too poorly regulated for us to pin our short-term hopes on them. 

The TIPS Advantage

At Servicon, health and safety are our priorities. To assure we stay ahead of the curve and can keep you current on the latest industry innovations, Servicon has partnered with The Infection Prevention Strategy (TIPS), which provides us with access to a network of top scientists and researchers in the field of infection prevention. This partnership assures all Servicon products, equipment use, and methodologies are science-backed and the information we share has been vetted for accuracy.

For more information on the efficacy of antimicrobial surface coatings as it becomes available and a deep dive into a host of other infection-prevention innovations, read our blog regularly.

Laurie Sewel is Servicon president and CEO.


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