A Closer Look at Antimicrobial and Electrostatic Sprayers Was published in CMM for client AFFLINK.
On March 11, 2020, two days before the U.S. began widespread shutdowns, the University of Hong Kong’s Department of Science and Technology (HKUST) released a particularly important announcement related to cleaning and the world’s fight against the coronavirus.* The university announced that it had developed an antimicrobial coating that, once applied to surfaces, was “effective in killing viruses (including the coronavirus), bacteria, and even hard to kill spores.”
Great news, but then HKUST added one more comment about the new coating that was even better news: “The coating is highly versatile with an effective period of up to 90 days.”
HKUST isn’t the only one breaking this barrier. Other organizations worldwide, both private and public, have developed antimicrobial disinfectants that when misted onto surfaces using an electrostatic sprayer, can “inactivate” viruses such as the coronavirus for as long as 90 days. (Sidebar: Why do we say “inactivate”?)
These new technologies are often described as providing “persistent and continuous protection” of a surface or “long-term prevention” of germs and bacteria developing on surfaces.
The fact that these coatings can remain active for such a long period has several benefits for cleaning professionals and their customers.
According to Mike Sawchuk, a Canadian cleaning consultant and head of Sawchuk Consulting, the following are some of the benefits of electrostatic sprayers and long-lasting disinfectants:
Labor Savings. It reduces work time, improving worker productivity significantly. “Just think how much work time is eliminated if surfaces, especially hard to reach surfaces, only need to be disinfected every 90 days instead of every night.
Coverage. These systems help improve overall coverage of surfaces, far more than is typically possible when disinfecting surfaces manually.
Cost Savings. Quality disinfectants tend to be more costly than traditional cleaning solutions. “Less chemical and less work time applying [disinfectants to surfaces] can be a significant cost savings for cleaning contractors and their customers.”
Promotes Sustainability. “Huge volumes of disinfectants have been shipped all over North America. By reducing the number of disinfectants needed, we reduce the number of containers needed, the packaging needed, transport of these products, as well as the greenhouse gases released by transport vehicles.”
Disinfectant Resistance. Just as germs are becoming resistant to different antibiotics, pathogens are becoming resistant to certain disinfectants. “If we can reduce disinfectant use, this resistance can be minimized.”
Health and Environmental Concerns. Although Canada does have Green-certified disinfectants, the U.S. does not, nor do they recognize them. “Reducing the number of disinfectants used to fight coronavirus, whether Green or not, can reduce cleaning’s impact on the user and the environment.”
Because more of these disinfectants are coming online, and many of them have been tested, their efficacy proven, along with their ability to last as long as 90 days, cleaning professionals should understand how and why these products can remain effective for such a long time.
According to Michael Wilson, vice president of marketing for AFFLINK, a distributor-membership organization that now markets these products and this technology, the first thing we need to understand is the difference between an “antimicrobial” and an “antibacterial.”
An antimicrobial, he explains, is designed to kill many types of pathogens on surfaces, “while an antibacterial is engineered to kill specific types of bacteria. The product most often used with electrostatic sprayers to help stop the spread of COVID is an antimicrobial.”
Electrostatic sprayers can be used to apply disinfectants to all types of surfaces, from walls and floors, to fabrics, plastics, counters, chairs, and tables. However, to be effective, these surfaces must be cleaned first before the disinfectant mist is applied.
“As the antimicrobial is released from the machine, a positive [electrical] charge is applied to the mist, which allows the disinfectant to bond to negatively charged surfaces,” says Wilson. “The mist kills microbes on the surface very quickly, and then inhibits the growth of pathogens for up to 90 days.”
If we looked under a microscope, we would see it does this by creating layers of spikes or “nano” (tiny) spears/spikes. “As it [the antimicrobial] attracts pathogens, these spikes pierce the pathogens, killing bacteria and inactivating viruses, mold, and fungi.”
This explains how the antimicrobial coating works, but not why it inhibits pathogen growth for such a long period. This, says Wilson, is accomplished through a molecular process that relies on what is called a “covalent bond” between the surface and the chemical. Originally developed for manufacturing industries, these “covalent coatings” become one with the surface, providing long-term protection that doesn’t wash away even with regular, repeated cleaning.
Now we have a better idea of how these antimicrobials work and a bit about the chemistry that helps them continue working for as long as 90 days. But the big takeaway here is that these are some of the most effective weapons we have right now to fight this disease.
Even after a vaccine is introduced and distributed, they will likely still be needed, and may help us more effectively fight other diseases, viruses and other pathogens in the future.
Robert Kravitz is a frequent writer for the professional cleaning industry.
Sidebar: Why do we say “inactivate”?
Although we often talk about disinfectants as “killing” viruses, “inactivate” is the more accurate term, since viruses are not alive.