Despite progress, barrier technology isn’t flawless in tackling the biofilms problem, and key challenges remain
We’re coming back to biofilms. This is the latest in our series of blogs looking at biofilms and the barrier technology being developed to tackle them. We’re raising awareness and promoting understanding of the topic, as part of our collaboration with the National Biofilms Innovation Centre (NBIC). In previous blogs, we’ve determined what biofilms are, and looked in detail at the development of barrier technologies. Biofilms are communities of micro-organisms that are resistant to biocides and can offer a refuge for potentially pathogenic bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Barrier technology provides an innovative solution by making surfaces themselves antimicrobial. But cleaning challenges remain when it comes to biofilms, and here we focus on three of these challenges.
Why barrier technology needs further development to meet cleaning challenges
Barrier technologies work to prevent bacteria from colonising in the first place, either by applying a coating of antimicrobial materials, or by creating a surface which damages bacteria or is difficult for them to adhere to. These new preventative and adaptive cleaning methods are already widely and successfully used in healthcare settings. But despite its significant potential, barrier technology isn’t a flawless solution to the entire problem of biofilms. There are still challenges for specialist cleaning companies, FM managers, and building managers to overcome. Here are three key cleaning challenges:
1. Build-up of conditioning films
Antimicrobial surfaces may still require regular attention to prevent what are known as conditioning films, or conditioning layers. These are layers formed from the remains of cells that have been destroyed by the surface or its coating. If a new layer of these dead cells becomes established on the surface, living cells can avoid touching the barrier tech and still colonise. Therefore, it’s vital to continue with standard cleaning practices, while remaining mindful of the need to avoid damage to the antimicrobial surface itself.
2. A lack of regulation in the sector
In 2019, the UK market for antimicrobial surfaces was an estimated £181 million. But the regulatory environment for biofilms is not yet fully representative of this market. There’s no standardised procedure for testing the effectiveness of barrier technologies against biofilms. This means any company developing or bringing new antimicrobial products to the market must commission its own tests at an accredited laboratory or university. This has increased the costs of bringing new and effective products to market.
3. Limited applications for current barrier technology
Barrier technology works most effectively on hard surfaces. An example is Citrox Protect Hard Surface Sealant, which uses a two-stage process to provide antimicrobial protection for up to six months. But generally, barrier technology is less effective – or sometimes not effective at all - on fabrics and other more pliable materials. With careful application, it is possible to use an antimicrobial coating on fabric. However, it can be difficult to achieve adequate coverage on a surface that is flexible, porous, and more likely to move.
There is clearly a sizeable market for antimicrobial fabrics, and this is a key area of development for the sector. As it stands, the focus is on developing barrier tech for clothing, with antimicrobial sportswear and medical garments both widely already available. But there’s growing interest among public transport operators, as fabric used in seat covers can be notoriously difficult to clean.
Back to basics for a comprehensive approach to biofilms?
Given these challenges, there is still clearly much for specialist cleaners and FM managers to do when it comes to tackling biofilms. So it’s still vital to remember the fundamentals of good cleaning. Look out for the next blog in this series, where we’ll outline our advice on best practice in specialist cleaning.
Before then, why not have a look at the report we’ve published in association with the NBIC. Visit our Resources section to download Biofilms & barrier technologies: The future of commercial cleaning today >>https://www.reactsc.co.uk/barrier-technology
* Picture credit: False-coloured mesoscopic image of two adjacent Escherichia coli biofilms. Image by Liam Rooney, Strathclyde Institute for Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences, University of Strathclyde
To find out more about REACT Specialist Cleaning and how we’re meeting the cleaning challenges posed by biofilms, contact one of the team today.
Post by Shaun D. Doak
Shaun is the CEO of REACT Group plc., a business dedicated to specialist cleaning, hygiene, and decontamination. He is deeply committed to making sure that every one of our company’s clients receives the highest possible level of service. An expert in HVAC and commercial and industrial cleaning methodologies, Shaun has extensive experience in the facilities management and renewable services sector.