Textiles: Combining High-Perfomance, High-Design and Sustainability


High-Tech Textiles

Thanks to some smart innovations, a new crop of safer, more sustainable and more attractive textiles are turning up in healthcare settings everywhere.

By Kylie Wroblaski

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    Advances in textile technologies have allowed designers to create more comforting healthcare spaces. Here, the Highpointe on Michigan skilled nursing facility, designed by Cannon Design, houses patients in a more residential setting. Photo Credit: Tim Wilkes Photography View larger

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    The Big Sur Collection from CF Stinson is made from Sunbrella Contract with Defiance, which uses a single antimicrobial component to inhibit the growth of bacteria, mold, fungus and mildew. View larger

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    The Tailored Collection from Bursch Fabrics features Crypton to provide stain, moisture, microbial and odor resistance. View larger

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    The colorful Quark Collection from Mayer Fabrics features Microban Zinc to protect against bacteria. View larger

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    Manufacturers are now offering a variety of options to suit every healthcare environment. Mayer Fabrics’ Spring Breeze privacy curtains are made with 100 percent antimony-free polyester, while the company’s Enliven line of curtains features an antimicrobial finish. View larger

It wasn’t long ago that a trip to the hospital, either as a patient or a visitor, meant being surrounded by drab, uncomfortable interiors—all of which were seemingly covered in vinyl. Fortunately, recent advances in textile design, coupled with the ongoing push for evidence-based design, have finally allowed attractive soft surfaces into patient rooms.

Thanks to innovations like new antimicrobial technologies and integrated moisture barriers, designers no longer have to sacrifice aesthetics for safety. Color and pattern have returned, much to the delight of patients and staff alike.

“You’re able to make a patient room less institutional,” says Randy Rubin, co-founder of Crypton. “You’re able to add pretty fabrics, more homey fabrics, and you’re able to have visitors come in and feel comfortable—and the patient feels more comfortable.”

antimicrobial advances
Infection control is paramount in a healthcare setting, especially with the Affordable Care Act tying hospital-acquired infections to a facility’s Medicare reimbursement. But it isn’t just important for administrators—it’s also important to patients, who often don’t have a strong enough immune system to fight off infections. The CDC estimates that Americans contract 1.7 million infections while being treated in hospitals each year, resulting in approximately 99,000 deaths.

As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so naturally any material that may help reduce the risk of infection transmission is receiving a boost in popularity. And while antimicrobial materials themselves aren’t all that new, the processes and techniques for achieving that characteristic are.

“One of the really key advancements in the last few years has been the idea of taking antimicrobial treatments and bringing them from the surface of the fabric as a topical treatment—where the antimicrobial agent was subject to migrating off of the fabric due to either abrasion, wear or cleaning, so that over time the antimicrobial efficacy was continuously diminishing—to where the antimicrobial agents are actually embedded inside of the fabric, where it is locked in,” says John Ronan, director of product development for CF Stinson. “It can’t be abraded off the fabric, it can’t be washed off the fabric, and so the efficacy remains constant throughout the usable lifetime of the fabric.”

Silver ions are most commonly used as antimicrobial agents, although a number of manufacturers have discovered that the same properties can be obtained from elements including zinc, chitosan (from crustacean shells) and copper.

“Copper inserted in materials is becoming a huge interest in the market and that’s applied in anything from fabrics, solid surfaces, textiles like upholstery and bed linens, to surgical masks,” says Ken Bowman, interior designer/interior design manager for ESa. ”I think this really is going to be one of the trendsetters that I’ve heard about in the last couple of years.”

With new antimicrobial elements and methods of application hitting the market, designers now have a wide range of high-tech textile options to choose from—many from the same manufacturer.

“Mayer offers fabrics that feature a variety of antimicrobial technologies. For example, patterns Punch and Guardian are examples of non-woven vinyl upholstery fabrics that feature silver ion technology, whereas our printed polyurethane pattern, Quark, uses Microban Zinc for bacterial defense,” explains Lucia Kennerly, director of product development for Mayer Fabrics. “All of our fabrics treated with Crypton or InCase include silver ion technology in their finishing formulations.”

Manufacturers are also answering the requests of designers and healthcare providers who prefer to specify healthcare fabrics with the least amount of finishes or additives possible. For example, Mayer Fabrics’ Spring Breeze line of privacy curtains features antimony-free polyester with no added finish or antimicrobial chemistry.

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