Second Thoughts about Antimicrobial Coatings

The antimicrobial coatings industry has been growing so rapidly and yet so quietly, it is possible that many in the professional cleaning industry are unaware of just how fast this industry has been expanding. Now considered a billion-dollar industry, antimicrobial coatings are designed to inhibit the growth of germs and bacteria on a variety of surfaces, and the one industry in which there appears to have been the greatest growth and growing demand is in healthcare.

North America is the largest regional market for antimicrobial coating products, with 35 percent of the market, according to a March 2014 report by Grand View Research, a market research and consulting firm. Further, this market is expected to continue to expand significantly in future years, according to the report.

These coatings are typically applied to counters, walls, door handles, and other high-touch areas, HVAC vents and mechanicals, and many other surfaces. In some cases, they are sprayed onto textiles, masks, gloves, and carpeting. Even paint manufacturers are applying them to their wall paint and primer products used in residential and commercial facilities to help inhibit the growth of pathogens.

And in hospitals and medical facilities, these coatings are also being applied to medical devices. According to information provided by Global Industry Analysts, a market research group, “The medical devices segment is all set to witness an impressive growth [in antimicrobial coatings] in coming years. Factors such as the increasing number of hospital-acquired infections cases . . .are encouraging greater use of antimicrobial-coated medical devices.”

Along with helping to inhibit the spread of germs and bacteria, if countertops, for instance, are coated with these materials, it means that powerful cleaning agents and disinfectants often used in healthcare facilities may no longer be needed. If proven true, this would help reduce the environmental impact of cleaning in medical facilities significantly.

So in a nutshell, the following are some of the key reasons for the significant growth of antimicrobial coatings in recent years:

  • They help stop the spread of pathogens that can cause disease, which is especially important in a hospital setting where many people already have weakened immune systems.
  • They have the potential to meaningfully lower the environmental impact of cleaning in a medical setting, where scores of different chemicals are used for a variety of purposes.
  • And, we should add, if surfaces do not need as thorough a cleaning to prevent the spread of disease, it could also reduce the amount of cleaning time—and cleaning staff—necessary. However, these manufacturers, along with the entire professional cleaning industry, have not heard the entire story yet. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) “has found no evidence to suggest [antimicrobial coatings] offer any enhanced protection from the spread of bacteria and germs and that proper cleaning and handwashing are the best ways to prevent infection.” At this point, the American Coatings Association has not commented on the CDC finding or its impact on the coatings industry. However this eventually plays out, the most important issue has already been raised: the true effectiveness of these coatings. The sense of security that these products provided is now under scrutiny, not only in the healthcare industry but in the professional cleaning industry as well.
  • Because of this, some healthcare organizations are having second thoughts about the use of these coatings. In fact, Kaiser Permanente, which operates 38 hospitals and more than 600 medical offices in the United States, has recently stopped using these products in its facilities, due to the findings by the CDC.
  • For the manufacturers of cleaning solutions and disinfectants, the growth of antimicrobial coating products may be a cause for concern. After all, a lot of money, time, and research have been poured into developing traditional and environmentally certified cleaning products to help stop the spread of disease and keep people in all types of facilities healthy.

What we know for certain is that effective cleaning, using proper cleaning solutions and cleaning methods, is still the best way to stop the spread of disease and keep people healthy in all types of facilities. And because so many of the cleaning solutions used in medical and other facilities are now Green certified, cleaning professionals are able to perform these cleaning tasks in the most environmentally responsible manner as well.