How Effective are Acoustics Materials at Stopping Germ Spread?

Acoustics manufacturers discuss the effectiveness of materials stopping germ spread.

By Jeff Wardon, Jr., Assistant Editor

Stopping the spread of germs is critical to maintaining a safe and healthy healthcare facility. Surprisingly, acoustics can aid in stopping the spread. In this manufacturer roundtable, Healthcare Facilities Today speaks with acoustics manufacturers about how acoustics materials could help control germ spread. 

Are acoustics materials with anti-microbial properties effective at controlling the spread of germs? 

“Product advancement has allowed for acoustics and anti-microbial properties to be offered from the same operable wall system.  Modernfold is proud to offer highly durable, stain-resistant coverings for our operable wall systems that have no topical or chemical finishes.  Our walls can be aggressively cleaned with water, solvent cleaners, diluted bleach and many other hospitals grade disinfectant cleaners.  Covering options are also antibacterial, anti-fungal and anti-staph, making our walls highly appealing to our healthcare customers. 

We strongly recommend that architects and designers look for manufacturers that can provide health product declarations for their automated partition systems as well.” 

— Bryan Welch, managing director, Modernfold   

“Proper cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces in public spaces has become increasingly important in the post-COVID environment to stop the spread of germs. Luckily, Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET) felt is made from recycled plastic water bottles, so not only is it capable of being properly sanitized, but the process is also decidedly easy. Acoustic products manufactured from PET can be disinfected with common household EPA-registered disinfectants or a diluted solution of household bleach. After either solution is lightly sprayed across the felt material, it will remain effective for up to 24 hours. 

PET acoustic products can also be dusted or vacuumed if they become dusty or dirty. A lint-free cloth saturated with a mild detergent or soap and water solution can be gently applied on larger or more difficult stains. Once the stain is removed, a clean cloth or sponge soaked in water can be used to remove any residue, and then the PET can be left to air dry.” 

— Michael Ackelbein, vice president of sales, Fräsch   

“Recently, antimicrobial additives in building products have been questioned and studied by industry experts on their overall effectiveness and potential unintended health impacts. Antimicrobial additives are classified as pesticides by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) because they are meant to kill certain organisms; bacteria, viruses, fungi, etc. 

In 2003, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) came out with guidelines saying there is no evidence that antimicrobials in products prevent disease, specifically in hospital settings. 

In 2017, Perkins+Will and the Healthy Building Network released a material health and performance white paper titled, Healthy Environments: Understanding Antimicrobial Ingredients in Building Materials. In summary, due to a lack of evidence that antimicrobials prevent the spread of diseases, their potential impacts like “super bugs,” contamination to our environment and their lack of transparency, Perkins+Will has added antimicrobials to their Precautionary List and avoid their use as much as possible. In 2015, after consulting with infectious disease experts, Kaiser Permanente banned the use of antimicrobials in interior products. Health Care Without Harm and Healthier Hospitals later did the same. The International Living Future Institute’s (ILFI) Red List of restricted substances now includes antimicrobials. In 2018, the Green Science Policy Institute listed antimicrobials as one of the six classes of chemicals of concern and recommends avoiding their use. 

Instead, the building industry has moved toward building materials that are naturally antimicrobial without the addition of chemical pesticides to make them so. For example, ceiling panels made of stone wool have, at their core, fibers made from basalt rock. Fibers made of rock inside building materials are inorganic naturally. No chemicals need to be added. Fortunately, products made of stone wool are also highly sound-absorptive, so they can be the perfect solution inside healthcare facilities.” 

— Gary Madaras, PhD, acoustic specialist, Rockfon 

Jeff Wardon, Jr. is the assistant editor for the facilities market. 

August 25, 2023

Topic Area: Infection Control

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