Killer Clothing Bursts Bad Bacteria

In the spring, Olivia Ong, a former student at Cornell University, featured two such pieces made from nonconventional, germ-resistant textiles in her fashion collection.

Fashion show with germ-free clothing

The fabrics contained oft-researched silver nanoparticles that can be effective in killing bacteria and disrupting viruses from infection.

In order to make the fabric germ-resistant, the cotton fabric must first be given a positive charge, said Dr. Juan Hinestroza, assistant professor in the department of Fiber Science and Apparel Design in the College of Human Ecology at Cornell University.

Then, the silver nanoparticles are given a negative charge so that they attach to the fabric, added Hinestroza, who created the materials.

Although the fabric is currently not available to the public, it has the potential to be used in a variety of ways outside the fashion laboratory.

"[The nanofibers] can be commercialized. Several companies have called to ask about the use of the fabrics in surgical gowns," Hinestroza said.

Hinestroza said there have also been requests to use the germ-resistant fabrics in meatpacking uniforms, to help protect against E.coli.

Cornell is not the only institution working on the development of germ-protective clothing. Dr. Gang Sun, professor in the department of textiles and clothing at the University of California at Davis, has also been exploring fabrics that shield wearers from disease.

Sun is not only experimenting with nanoparticles, but also with anti-microbial polymers.

"I have been working in the area of biological and chemical protective textiles for the past 13 years, mostly focusing on producing biocidal polymers and fabrics that can kill germs rapidly," Sun said.

Sun's textiles are rechargeable and can be used for medical and military purposes. Specifically, the "materials could detoxify certain chemicals including pesticides and mustard gas upon contact," he said.

Sun's discovery is already in use in commercial products, including medical linens and reusable antibacterial wipes.

However, not everyone is sold on these germ-free materials for worker uniforms.

"Although you can culture bacteria from clothing, they have never been tied to transmission of infections," Fishman said. The germ-resistant clothing can "be useful in health-care settings [such as] the surgical drape to prevent surgical-site infections."

Fungus-Fighting Socks

Socks have never had a good reputation -- considering their abilities to both retain odor and vanish from the dryer.

While problem-solving the latter remains challenging, sock makers are tackling issue No. 1 with anti-fungal fabrics that contain the now-familiar silver nanoparticles.

Socks with nanosilver

"The nanosilvers help to eliminate bacterial growth and [foot] odor," said Kim Amylon, a spokeswoman for Eurosocks, one company using anti-fungal technology.

However, researchers in Arizona found the nanoparticles don't necessarily last long enough to disappear from the dryer.

"The idea was to purchase socks that contain silver, [and find out] how much of it comes off through washing," said Troy Benn, a doctoral candidate in the department of civil and environmental engineering at Arizona State University

Benn found that some of the socks -- he did not test Eurosocks -- released the silver after multiple washings. The findings are published in Environmental Science and Technology, the American Chemical Society's journal.

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