We all have heard and read about ASTM F 1670 testing standard which is a viral penetration test for fabrics used in medical coveralls. But when it comes to anti-viral properties in fashion items, has anybody of us paid that much attention? The answer would probably be – No!
However, as a fashion consumer, have you ever thought your clothes can protect you from COVID-19? The answer would be – Yes! So, it implies the shoppers care about the end product and its direct impact on their bodies. It’s evident that the medical textiles industry worldwide has seen escalating use of anti-viral properties in fabrics used to make body coveralls and masks to save frontline warriors from getting virus-affected. And now, clothing brands in India are snapping it up to protect fashion consumers from COVID-19.
In a major development in the area of anti-viral fabric, Arvind Ltd., a leading textile-to-retail conglomerate in India, has recently collaborated with Swiss Textile Innovator HeiQ to introduce HeiQ Viroblock technology in the country. Arvind will now be able to offer shirting and suiting fabrics, apparels and masks using this Viroblock technology under its brand ‘Intellifabrix’. Tests on a virus similar to COVID-19 called 229E proved the treated material can destroy virus in a few minutes after contact of garments treated with HeiQ Viroblock.
Another big textile-to-retail conglomerate of India, Donear Group has also launched its range of high quality, utilitarian and anti-bacterial and anti-viral fabric under its brand name GRADO. Now when the world is reeling from a pandemic, GRADO has come up with NEO TECH® technology wherein the products are high quality, utilitarian and have a shield against bacteria and viruses alike. The fabric has received certifications from the country’s top laboratories like NABL accredited Bio Tech Services.
There are more developments to come in anti-viral fabric segment, as it’s something that’s the need of the hour. Seeing the above two developments, one thing is certain that domestic brands are all geared up to treat their fabrics with technologies that can protect the wearer from any sort of bacteria and viruses. But the bigger question is – how foolproof is this whole process? Is anti-viral fabric enough to safeguard the wearer from a severe virus like SARS-CoV-19?
Let’s go back to medical coveralls to understand this issue. A body coverall requires a fabric with anti-viral property, its seams are sealed so that the probability of virus penetration from needle punch area reduces and there is no loose opening anywhere from top to bottom. But that’s not the case with usual apparel products.
However, it’s understandable that a usual garment obviously won’t be made like a coverall… but how far can the brands go to provide the safety? Do they use sewing threads treated with anti-viral properties? Swasti Dey, CEO, Material Intelligence Lab, told Apparel Resources, “COVID-19 virus is found to be 120 nanometres, so regardless of whatever you make – woven, non-woven, knitted and coated etc., it is very important to measure pore size of the material used. The pore size should be less than 120 nanometres, so that virus should not penetrate the fabric layer or seams.”
Also Read: Knowing and constructing medical face masks
When it comes to enhance anti-viral properties in fashion garments, fabric finish must also be supported with sewing threads which are treated with anti-viral technology. One such innovation was done recently by an Italian company Manifattura Italiana Cucirini SPA (MIC) which developed a new treatment called SAFE that makes the sewing thread especially suitable for all sectors demanding protection. Though it’s more for PPE, technical textiles and even for sportswear garments, the brands must look into this kind of development to enhance safety of their garments with integration of anti-viral sewing threads alongside anti-viral fabrics.
MIC-treated sewing threads are tested and approved for ASTM G21 (anti-fungal) and JIS L 1902 (anti-bacterial). The anti-viral properties of threads are tested in independent laboratories.
Going further, it can be still believed that accessories like fashion masks and headgears are treated with anti-viral technology which is by far getting a great success rate. One such example is Polygiene, a Sweden-based fabric finish technology provider, which claims to kill over 99 per cent of viruses in 2 hours as per an ISO 18184:2019 test. Viruses tested so far are Influenza A, BirdFlu, Norovirus and SARS.
However, even Polygiene believes in not making any misleading claims with regards to CoV-2, as commercial testing on COVID-19 is still a huge concern and not available in testing labs. Vishal Bhandari, Technical Director (South Asia), Polygiene AB, told Apparel Resources that they keep it to mostly masks and headgears which have got some fabulous results in all these months. Virus particles are very small and they can easily penetrate these masks and get into mouth/nose. “It would make more sense for brands to opt for ViralOFF and Oleophobic coating together to provide safety to the wearers,” said Vishal.
Polygiene is relentlessly working to conduct successful testing on CoV-2 virus to steer its project of providing anti-viral fabric finish for garments. “Other viruses have been successfully tested, but we are yet to test against COVID-19. Having said that, since our team is working in this direction, we will soon come up with a positive result,” informed Vishal.
Another aspect to understand is that it’s not a necessity to prove efficacy against all viruses within a given virus family. In efficacy testing, the chemical inactivation can’t be determined for all viruses within a family because some of those relevant to human medicine can’t be cultivated sufficiently or these might pose a high amount of risk to the laboratory staff when carrying out the tests. Here comes the concept of surrogate virus as an alternative.
The surrogate virus is recommended, as the lack of availability of SARS-CoV-2 for testing has made the available samples reserved for more urgent research such as vaccine development than to test fabrics. ASTM International itself has established a surrogate system to make testing available to BS2 lab.
For all brands and retailers of clothing who want to come up with garment tested against SARS-CoV-2 need to understand the significance of this process and also the limitations of what they are about to claim.
Also Read: ‘Mask’ a necessity with a fashion statement