Interior designers have an essential role in specifying finishes and materials in healthcare environments to hinder (or kill) organisms and pathogens that can spread disease and infection. The professional interior designer is always proactively looking to protect the health, safety, and welfare of building occupants. This is paramount in healthcare design.
There is an abundance of materials that are scientifically developed for use in healthcare settings that interior designers and architects specify to help minimize the spread of infection. Interior designers can utilize the same type of materials used in hospitals and other healthcare interiors for our homes which can help keep you and your family safe from pathogens which carry infection and disease.
Considering what we have learned so far from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is imperative for interior designers to utilize finishes, fabrics, and implement design strategies to help keep us safe and healthy.
First, let us determine a few essential definitions we will cover:
What is the difference between "cleaning" and "disinfecting"? What is "antimicrobial"?
Cleaning simply removes germs, dirt, and impurities from surfaces while disinfecting kills the germs and viruses that are present. Cleaning works by using detergent or soap and water to lower the number of germs, which lessens the risk of spreading infection. Conversely, disinfecting does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces but, by killing nearly 100% of germs on a surface after cleaning, it can further reduce the risk of spreading infection.
Antimicrobial refers to something that kills on contact or inhibits growth of microorganisms such as bacteria and fungi. Antimicrobial property can be inherent to a material or come from a chemical additive (such as Microban®), including nano-particles and heavy metals (for example, silver or copper). (Source: Wolf Gordon)
How the properties of cleanability, disinfecting, and antimicrobial can be applied to residential interior finishes and textiles:
We have been using scientifically developed textiles for decades in healthcare and hospitality environments. Fabrics with increased durability, flame, soil and stain resistance for traffic areas such as hotel lobbies and waiting areas at hospitals. These fabrics are also developed to be resistant to fluids and can be disinfected with a topical agent or may even have antimicrobial content, which are all particularly important in a healthcare setting.
While we have seen fabrics with increased durability, flame, and soil and stain resistance cross over into residential application, such as those made with Crypton®, we have not seen antimicrobial fabrics, typically developed for healthcare settings, cross over to the residential furnishings market. I have been using commercial (contract) rated fabrics for many of my residential projects since the early beginnings of my career in hospitality interiors. Most of my clients have children, grandchildren, pets, or simply an active lifestyle who appreciate the durability and cleanability that these fabrics offer. Whether you choose a Crypton Home fabric or Crypton Contract fabric for your home, these durable textiles help extend the life of upholstery purchases making them a good value.
Note: All Crypton® products can be treated with their one step spray disinfectant, which is a “one-step quaternary hospital-grade disinfectant, Crypton’s U.S. EPA-registered Crypton Disinfectant & Deodorizer kills most germs, mold and mildew on contact. Safe, simple, and highly effective, Crypton’s Disinfectant & Deodorizer kills 99.9% of germs on contact. It is effective against a broad spectrum of viruses, bacteria, micro-organisms, mold, mildew, and fungus. (Source: Crypton® Fabric Intelligence)
Going forward post COVID-19, I believe that we are going to see textiles being developed for the residential market. This would give consumers the added assurance in their furnishings being inherently antimicrobial or easily disinfected can reduce the transmission of infection within the home.
Flooring materials for use in healthcare interiors, such as sheet vinyl, have been developed to be non-porous, easily cleanable, resistant to liquids, noise reducing, and contain antimicrobial additives to reduce the spread of infection. Healthcare environments have evolved to support healing and wellness with the implementation evidence based, biophilic design. We have seen the aesthetics of healthcare materials transition from lifeless institutional looks to more natural looking materials. This implementation has been proven to increase healing in patients.
We now have residential flooring products that have been developed with the intention of creating a safer home environment. Nanocontrol Antimicrobial®, for instance, is a proprietary technology that deters the growth of microorganisms and bacteria, and is also resistant to liquids. This technology can be applied to man-made materials such as luxury vinyl plank and engineered natural wood flooring.
Broadloom carpet with antimicrobial content for hospitality application has been available for decades in the hotel industry. Meeting residential consumer demand for low maintenance, and a healthier home, carpet manufacturers that have adapted carpeting with commercial attributes for residential use. Carpet containing Microban®, an antimicrobial additive, “protects against the growth of bacteria, mold and mildew, and remains 99% cleaner than untreated surfaces”. Additives that contain antimicrobial technology can work to destroy or inhibit the growth and reproduction of harmful bacteria, mold, and mildew in other finishes, not just carpet.
Porcelain tile containing Microban® is becoming more prevalent and is not just for commercial and healthcare application. Microbes can last an exceptionally long time on hard surfaces and can be easily carried by foot traffic and pets increasing the chances of cross contamination to other surfaces. Surfaces in the kitchen and bathroom have the potential for the highest number of microbes which can rapidly spread from one surface to another. Adding an antimicrobial additive to porcelain tile makes perfect sense to reduce the spread of harmful bacteria.
Quartz countertops have become an immensely popular choice. Quartz comes in a wide array of colors, styles, and finishes that complement just about every type of interior. It is also accessible in just about any region of the world and the color is consistent from slab to slab. For these reasons alone, engineered quartz is a great finish for commercial and residential application.
The added value of quartz countertops is that the material is non-porous, heat resistant, corrosion and stain resistant. Some manufacturers, such as Silestone®, add Microban® to the quartz matrix protecting the material from harmful bacteria and odors.
At this point, since COVID-19 has not undergone thorough study, we cannot wholly recommend products labeled at “antimicrobial” as a defense against COVID-19, since most antimicrobial technologies have not been proven to destroy viruses. We must implement other cleaning and disinfecting strategies to protect us from these types of pathogens.
To minimize the risk of spreading COVID-19, or a novel virus like it, the CDC states that the most effective method is regular cleaning and disinfection of frequently touched surfaces. The most common disinfection agents used in commercial interiors are diluted bleach (10:1 water/bleach solution) or isopropyl alcohol (70% solution). If the material is not bleach cleanable, there are many other cleaners and disinfectants registered on the EPA’s List N.
As we are all at risk of being infected by anything from the common cold to more deadly viruses such as COVID-19, implementing strategies learned from healthcare and hospitality interior design, we can create residential environments that add an extra level of protection against the spread of infection within our homes. I believe that we will see these materials become ever more prevalent to aid in the prevention of spread of infection in residential application. A professional interior designer, (see my “Interior Designer or Interior Decorator” blog) can assist their residential clients with the best products to fit the needs of their individual lifestyles.