Furniture & Interior Design

More hygiene: material with added value

6 min.

The awareness of hygiene has grown, particularly in areas where there are large numbers of people. Partitions from PLEXIGLAS® with antimicrobial coatings provide special protection here.

© Maridav/Shutterstock.com

Is it possible to become infected with viruses and bacteria that stick to surfaces? This question has become far more prevalent in society since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, even for those of us who never gave this subject a second thought. After all, the coronavirus pandemic has permanently altered the general perception of hygiene: Already well established in clinics to curtail the spread of multiresistant pathogens, surfaces with antimicrobial coatings are now gaining popularity in shopfitting, furniture manufacturing and interior design. They are suitable for all areas with high public traffic and increased hygiene demands, with these products being installed in retail, hotels, leisure facilities, medical practices, government buildings, schools, kindergartens and care facilities.

The importance of antibacterial and antiviral surfaces is growing

The permanently increased awareness of hygiene was a key topic at interzum, the international fair for suppliers to the furniture and interior construction industries, which took place online in 2021 under the interzum @home moniker.

“Antibacterial and antiviral surfaces are currently playing an important role. In most cases, this involves giving existing products an additional coating that can reduce the viruses for a specified amount of time or even eliminate them,” explains Katrin de Louw, owner of the Trendfilter agency and organizer of the Trend Stage at interzum @home. “We expect to see some new developments here in the coming months.”

Many manufacturers are reacting to the increased awareness of hygiene and are offering materials with antimicrobial surface treatment – just like Röhm GmbH with PLEXIGLAS® XT Antimicrobial.

Antibacterial: effective against bacteria.

Antiviral: effective against viruses.

Antimicrobial: effective against a wide range of microorganisms, such as bacteria, viruses and fungi. Depending on the properties of the active substance used, antimicrobial coatings prevent microbe growth.

Material expert Hannes Bäuerle, founder and CEO of the raumprobe materials database, confirmed this development in an interview: “There have been many materials with ‘anti’ properties for a while now.” He believes that COVID-19 has accelerated this trend: “Many products already existed, but the demand has now grown.”

It is therefore time for all shopfitters, furniture manufacturers and interior designers to react to the changed hygiene requirements and focus more on this topic!

Antimicrobial – an explanation

“Materials with ‘anti’ properties” – here, the expert means materials and surfaces that provide general protection against viruses, bacteria, fungi and other harmful substances. As Bäuerle explains in his “ANTI*Material” presentation at interzum @home, there are various technologies that have different effects.  Antibacterial technologies often use silver-based systems and pursue the goal of restricting the spread of bacteria. Unlike bacteria, viruses need a host in order to replicate.

Antiviral technologies therefore focus on the host and “prevent bacteria, mold or fungi from being hosts,” explains Bäuerle. As such, these surfaces have a wider-ranging effect than antibacterial technologies and are comparable to antimicrobial technologies, as they “prevent the growth of microbes for prolonged periods.”

In April 2020, The Association of German Engineers (Verein Deutscher Ingenieure – VDI) published a status report (in German only) on the topic of antimicrobial surfaces for preventing infection. The report states that “there are two ways to generate effective surface protection against diverse microorganisms: either by using solid materials with intrinsic antimicrobial properties, or by coating the surface with antimicrobial or anti-adhesive materials.”

Antimicrobial surfaces are effective against many bacteria and viruses

So, how do surfaces become antimicrobial? To put it simply, either the material itself is antimicrobial, or it is coated or impregnated. As an example of an antimicrobial material, Bäuerle mentions the classic, natural wooden cutting board found in many kitchens. Its tannin content and permeable, open-pored surface contribute to its antiviral and antibacterial properties.

The special variant of the brand acrylic glass from Röhm, PLEXIGLAS® XT Antimicrobial, achieves the same effect thanks to its special coating, which contains a formulation that prevents microbial growth.

All these antimicrobial surfaces not only contribute to protecting against COVID-19, but also many other viral and bacterial infections.

According to the VDI, they must fulfill numerous conditions to do so. As mentioned in the status report on antimicrobial surfaces for preventing infection, these conditions include a wide range of effects, as well as mechanical and chemical resistance. They must also be toxicologically harmless, hypoallergenic and remain effective even when the surface is dirty. The antimicrobial efficacy of the surfaces is comprehensively tested by independent institutes.

Additional surface hygiene is imperative

Antimicrobial materials or coatings cannot, however, replace thorough cleaning and disinfection of the surfaces or other hygiene measures. In this context, Bäuerle warns about using fear to market the products. As many people are worried about their health, countless products such as sprays or films would be launched on the market which allow materials to be “retrofitted” and supposedly prevent infection with COVID-19.

“I find such promises to be grossly negligent,” says Bäuerle. “Additional hygiene measures, such as keeping your distance, are vital to prevent the spread of infection.”

© iStock.com/Maica

Transparent partitions for increased hygiene demands

In combination with additional hygiene measures, antimicrobial surfaces can provide a solution where surfaces and objects are often touched, such as in shops, doctors’ practices, restaurants or public buildings. At the start of the pandemic, the retail sector reacted with temporary protective and hygiene measures; transparent partitions were installed and disinfectant dispensers placed at the entrances to shops, while the numbers of people entering were restricted and social distancing was ensured.

„Handel mit Abstand“ (“retail at a distance”) is the name of a study conducted by the EHI Retail Institute. According to it, “following the initial temporary measures, all retail companies then moved to more visually appealing solutions that were aimed at being part of the overall design concept.” 70 percent of the companies surveyed stated that they rely on “protection concepts which are as flexible as possible and can simply be removed when they are no longer required”.

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PROZENT

percent of retail companies use “flexible protection concepts” in shops.

PLEXIGLAS® XT Antimicrobial:

In addition to the proven PLEXIGLAS® properties, such as

  • Outstanding transparency and vibrancy
  • 30-year guarantee against yellowing
  • Easy to process
  • Low weight – weighs half as much as glass
  • 11 times more breakproof than glass

PLEXIGLAS® XT Antimicrobial also displays the following special properties:

  • Excellent abrasion and chemical resistance
  • Antimicrobial surface

More information on
PLEXIGLAS® XT Antimicrobial

PLEXIGLAS® with antimicrobial coating

Mobile partitions made from PLEXIGLAS®, for example, can be used to support shopfitters with these plans. With its coating on both sides, PLEXIGLAS® XT Antimicrobial provides special protection. These transparent solid sheets are resistant to both chemicals and abrasion and also possess antimicrobial properties which have been confirmed by an independent testing institute.

As such, PLEXIGLAS® XT Antimicrobial is particularly well suited for mobile partitions, such as those in trade fair booth construction and shopfitting, as well as in general applications in areas with heavy public traffic – in particular, because the coated material is robust and very easy to clean.

Customers appreciate “inner values of materials”

Despite all this, the material expert knows that the hygiene aspect alone is not sufficient as a criterion when selecting the material. Robust, sustainable, healthy, natural – on the basis of the requests sent to his raumprobe database, Bäuerle has observed that the demands for the “inner values of the materials” have also become stricter over the past few years. “The visual appearance is no longer the only thing that matters. Customers focus on quality.”

In-depth surveys conducted by the material database over the past year also support this. Recycling, circular economy and short transport routes are important factors to the customers, and many of them are prepared to spend more for this. “When it comes to higher-priced products, the warehouses are often empty,” says Bäuerle.

This development is reason for the expert to be optimistic. “Materials have functions with an added value. It is not just about the aesthetics of the material, but also about its function.” The trend of paying greater attention to the source and composition of a product can also be seen in other areas, such as when shopping for food.

“In my opinion, we’re heading in the right direction,” says Bäuerle. As a high-quality and durable material, PLEXIGLAS®, the brand acrylic glass from Röhm, meets the demands customers place on sustainability when selecting their products. And the new variant with its antimicrobial effect provides important added value, particularly in the current environment.

“Materials have functions with an added value. It is not just about the aesthetics of the material, but also about its function.”

Hannes Bäuerle, founder and CEO of raumprobe

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