Cotton, the saying goes, is the fabric of our lives. But in a healthcare environment—a hospital or an infirmary, for example—cotton or other natural materials that retain moisture, instead of being life-sustaining, become fomites, life-threatening materials capable of transmitting infectious organisms.
Instead, hospital risk managers and others responsible for infection control in medical bedding along with the manufacturers who supply their bedding, have come to rely on specially formulated, impenetrable medical fabrics with advanced antimicrobial properties.
Developed in the 1950s by pioneering firms, such as Herculite Products, these properties—found in everything from mattress fabrics to pillow fabrics and curtain fabrics in a healthcare setting contain antimicrobial additives that help reduce the presence of common pathogens on these surfaces. The key to leveraging the benefits of these working fabrics is in distinguishing the genuine performing products from the imposters. Here’s what to look for when buying these materials, whether for use in manufacturing or as an end-user:
Are the antimicrobial features in the medical bedding materials verified or merely claimed?
Some distributors claim their medical fabric has antimicrobial features but there’s no proof. Genuine antimicrobial bedding fabrics, such as Sure-Chek, are laboratory tested against supporting klebsiella pneumonia and methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) according to proven tested standards, such as AATCC 147 and ISO 22196. To what degree are the antimicrobial features of the medical bedding proven effective? Laboratory tests for industry-leading brands, such as Herculite’s Sure-Chek healthcare fabrics, have shown a demonstrable reduction in activity present on the surface of the fabric.
What product specifications accompany the product and who stands behind those specifications? Are they the manufacturer of the product?
Are they ISO registered? Claims made by offshore manufacturers may not be worth the corrugated paper they’re shipped in. Have you ever tried filing a claim in China? It has been reported in some industries that up to 30 percent of imported products have been non-conforming or rejected. The Chinese drywall incident reported in South Florida in March 2012 was an even bigger problem. The cost of these rejects come straight off the builder’s bottom line. Check the specification on the antimicrobial features too. Are they effective for one year? Two? Or best, for the life of the product?
How effective are the fluid resistance and moisture vapor transmission qualities of the medical fabrics?
Moisture-resistant fabrics reduce the risk of contamination of the mattress from liquids or bodily fluids. The impermeability of a membrane to water movement as a liquid is assessed by measuring hydrostatic test ASTM D751/A. Moisture vapor transmission is the result of molecular diffusion caused by different levels of humidity on either side of the membrane. The impermeability of a membrane to moisture vapor transmission is measured by ASTM E96/BW.
How strong are the materials used to provide the antimicrobial features?
All the bacterial-resistant features in the world are meaningless if the surface fabric tears or is cut, exposing surfaces and materials that are not similarly protected. Sure-Chek healthcare fabrics, for example, are tested for tensile strength and tear resistance using the grab method ASTM 05034, the tongue tear method ASTM 02261, and the adhesion method ASTM 0751. Fabrics that are weldable, using RF or ultrasonic methods, also create an impermeable seam to air and moisture, further reducing risk from cross-contamination.
As the saying goes, "if it sounds too good to be true..."
If you’ve ever bought an inexpensive car with the notion that you were saving money because the sticker price was low compared to others in the market, you know that buying something inexpensive up front doesn't always save you money in the long run; your total cost of ownership is what counts in the end. Buying healthcare, correctional, and dormitory bedding with antimicrobial resistance is no different.
Examine the claims of the manufacturer. If they’re vague, walk away. If they don’t conform to industry-leading standards, keep on shopping. If you’re not getting comprehensive protection over the expected life of the product, keep looking. You want peace of mind. And who knows, it might just be you, a close friend, or family member in that hospital bed one day. Which healthcare fabric would you want the healthcare facility to have chosen?