Antimicrobial Textile Finishes Explained

Antimicrobial finished on textiles have generated a lot of interest in recent years in both the medical and textiles clothing industry. Here at Melbec, we have seen the industry and demand for the appropriate micro textiles testing increase at the same time.

The interest in antimicrobial finishes for two reasons; in healthcare, the potential to reduce infection transmission, and for the ability to prolong the lifespan and performance of clothing in the consumer goods market.

Let’s take a closer look at antimicrobial finishes – what they are, how they can be use and textiles testing.


Traditionally, antimicrobial finishes and treatments have been used on textiles that may be prone to rot, particularly under tropical or humid conditions. But in recent years, the general public’s attitude towards hygiene and physical activity has seen a rise in the demand for clothing that has antimicrobial properties. Our society has come a long way since the days when even bathing was considered unhealthy and unnecessary!

Antimicrobial treatments have hence been used on clothing used in outdoor pursuits, sport and leisure. The applications for textiles are endless but common examples are sports clothing, footwear, underwear and socks. Other applications are available to consumers in the form of treatments applied to bedding – including pet bedding, soft furnishings such as cushions, and towels.


As already mentioned, garments can be treated with antimicrobial finishes for consumer goods, but they also have a potentially more important purpose in healthcare.

A major challenge in healthcare is hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) such as MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus). These type of infections not only affect patient well-being, as reported by the Nursing Times, but they create a feeling of distrust in our medical profession. And although cases of MRSA have fallen in the UK, other types of infections have risen and there is still a need to be vigilant when it comes to infection control.

One control method to help control HAIs is to reduce the number of touch surfaces that can carry bacteria that can be transferred between surfaces and in turn, to patients. Patient gowns, bed linens and other textiles are one such surface that can be part of the touch-transfer process that spreads infection; enter antimicrobial finishes. Hospital textiles can be treated to have a biocidal surface to destroy or inactivate organisms, thus significantly reducing the touch-transfer process.

A study conducted in 2016 showed that although treated textiles didn’t completely reduce the risk of bacteria transfer, their use in healthcare would be useful as an additional hygiene measure.

Antimicrobial dressings and garments have also been used in the healthcare sector, particularly dermatology, as therapy for some skin conditions such as atopic dermatitis.  Form-fitting antimicrobial textiles may reduce the colonization of Staphylococcus aureus on patients’ skin, thus reducing the effects of the skin condition.

Garments, typically made from silk, are available now for consumers to try as a treatment for many skin conditions. Some studies suggest that the effects may be no different than using typical topical treatments, but some patients may find the use of so-called ‘therapy clothing’ a more comfortable option.


Antimicrobial finishes can be applied to textiles in a variety of ways. Additives can be introduced to textiles during fibre spinning, combined with dyes or applied as a coating to finished products. The process varies depending on the intended use of the product and can be used on both natural or man-made fibres.

There are a variety of additives that can be used in antimicrobial finishes. Additives used will contain a specific antimicrobial active, such as silver but many different compounds have been used such as triclosan, metal salts and polybiguanides. Research has also been conducted into plant-based natural antimicrobial compounds.


To test the efficacy of antimicrobial textiles, specific testing methods can be conducted by laboratories in addition to client run trials and research.

Testing is essential to substantiate the antimicrobial properties of a finished product textile and support marketing claims or research.  Of course, laboratory testing is not real-world testing and results should be looked at in conjunction with real-life application results.

Textile testing is carried out to various standard methods including, but not limited to:

  • AATCC 100 Antibacterial finishes on textile materials
  • AATCC 147 Antibacterial activity assessment of textile materials: parallel streak method
  • AATCC 174 Antimicrobial activity assessment of new carpets
  • ASTM E2149 Antimicrobial activity of immobilised antimicrobial agents under dynamic contact conditions
  • ISO 20743 Determination of antibacterial activity of textile products

Testing can be carried out using standard strains or they can be substituted with organisms relevant to the product claims. These may include antibiotic-resistant strains such as MRSA and VRE, fungal spores or Clostridium difficile.


Melbec Microbiology’s team of scientists has extensive expertise in the field of claim support and textile testing. We can conduct and feedback on the all of the standard testing methods mentioned above.

For more information or advice, please get in touch via our contact page. If you prefer to give us a call, you can reach us on 01706 214 492.

Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!

Related Posts

    • Melbec To Offer New Hygienic Handrub Virucidal Testing Standard

      Published On: May 9, 2024

      We are proud to announce that we are offering testing to the BS EN 17430:2024 standard. This is a phase 2/step 2 test newly introduced in Europe and is notable in that the effectiveness of [...]

    • Meet Melbec: Gemma Morgan

      Published On: May 3, 2024

      In the next instalment of our ‘Meet Melbec’ series, say hello to our fantastic Technical Manager – Training and Quality, Gemma!   How did you come to work at Melbec Microbiology? I had been working [...]

    • ISS Bacteria Adapts to Thrive in Extreme Conditions

      Published On: April 26, 2024

      During the 2-year Microbial Tracking 1 mission, thirteen strains of Enterobacter bugandensis were isolated from various locations inside the International Space Station. Senior Research Scientist Dr. Kasthuri Venkateswaran of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory studied how [...]