Researchers make virus-killing clothing for firefighters and soldiers

The fabric can eliminate viruses on contact.
Loukia Papadopoulos
First responders need protective clothing.jpg
First responders need protective clothing.

xavierarnau/iStock 

Did you know that there is clothing that can kill viruses and bacteria on contact? It helps protect the people who protect us (first responders), but getting that type of protective finish onto their uniforms is a big challenge. 

The University of Alberta researchers are now working to make self-decontaminating fabrics a good fit for the production line and ultimately all kinds of uniforms, according to a press release by the institution published Tuesday.

Compatible with industry-level manufacturing

“We want to take the technology from the lab and scale it up so that it is efficient and compatible for industry-level manufacturing processes, which is a very big step,” said lead researcher Patricia Dolez, a textiles scientist in the Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences.

The one-year project focuses on improving the short- and long-term performance of a fabric finish Dolez and fellow researchers James Harynuk and Jane Batcheller are exploring. 

The goal is to make wide-scale industrial production economically feasible.

The work is supported by almost $1 million in funding from the Department of National Defence’s Innovation for Defence Excellence and Security program.

It consists of a  finish that uses N-halamines, compounds that can kill bacteria and viruses quickly and efficiently, and can be easily grafted onto textiles.

Researchers make virus-killing clothing for firefighters and soldiers
Soldiers need protective gear.

The compound is suitable for protective uniforms for everyone from soldiers and hospital workers to firefighters and paramedics. 

“This solution could apply to any type of protective clothing, even face masks, which introduces an additional way to help first responders stay healthy and safe,” said Dolez.

A recharging system needed to reactivate the finish that’s been applied to a garment is also under development. This system requires dipping the clothing in chlorine-containing solutions like bleach.

Ideally suited for the harsh conditions of soldiers' lives

Since soldiers in the field don’t always have access to luxuries like running water or washing machines, there needed to be an easy way for them to recharge their garments in harsh conditions and remote environments, noted Dolez.

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“We want to develop a system with a minimal footprint that’s not bulky or heavy, doesn’t need to be done often, and can be easily applied. It could be a powder or a liquid.”

The researchers are partnering with Logistik Unicorp Inc., a Canadian company that manages supply chains for a range of corporate and government clients worldwide that use protective clothing. Their aim is to tailor the technology to first responders’ needs.

“They’re consulting with their clients, which brings an overarching view to our research that isn’t limited to one textile technology or application,” said Dolez. “That’s going to help us find out the best production process for our solution.”

In May 2020, researchers from at least two universities claimed to have applied "electric" mask technologies capable of neutralizing coronaviruses. They demonstrated an electric fabric capable of killing coronaviruses on contact.

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