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Disinfecting fabrics for COVID-19

October 1st, 2020 / By: / Inflatables, Markets, Tents

Expert advice for eliminating a deadly virus while keeping employees and end users safe. 

by Pamela Mills-Senn

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, manufacturers of textile-based products like gym mats and pads, soft seating and bounce houses faced the usual questions from their customers about how to clean and disinfect these items. But there is nothing routine in the age of coronavirus. Fabric products used in high-traffic or high-touch environments that previously seemed innocuous are now considered a potential vector for transmitting the virus, generating alarm over the risk they might pose. As a result, textile and fabric producers are fielding calls from their customers about the best way to protect the public.

Select Event Group, Laural, Md., installed nearly 70 tenting structures at medical and other institutional sites in Maryland to prepare for an anticipated increase of patient loads due to COVID-19. Photo: Paul Corgan, Select Event Group.

Chuck Shipp, president of Shipp Cleaning Systems, is also getting these calls. Located in Conyers, Ga., the company manufactures cleaning chemicals and partners with cleaning equipment manufacturers to distribute to the tent and special event industries, as well as to the general tool and equipment rental industry. Inquiries have varied, he says.

“The challenge in the inflatable industry is to ensure the safety of the customers from cross-contamination from all possible germs, including COVID-19,” Shipp says. “In the tent industry, the primary focus has been on cleaning contaminated tents that were used for medical purposes and ensuring the safety of employees who take down a medical-purposed tent. The constant question has been how to prevent cross-contamination from the employees to the customers and from the customers to the employees.”

Inquiries concerning compatibility between cleaners/disinfectants and the material are common, says James Miller, sales representative for Snyder Manufacturing Inc. Located in Dover, Ohio, the company manufactures high-quality standard and custom industrial vinyl fabrics, mesh and film used for a range of applications by its commercial, industrial and government customers. Like Shipp, Miller says the majority of the questions have come from tent rental companies whose tents are being directly exposed to COVID-19 patients.

Miller and Shipp were among a group that developed a list of COVID-19 cleaning and safety best practices for the Tent Rental Division of IFAI. This was an important effort, says Miller, because although everyone in the tent industry has particular expertise—such as designing or constructing tents, producing the material, or installing and dismantling them—there was no centralized source of information about understanding the dynamics and potential impacts of the virus. 

“It was important for us to come together as an industry to identify all the concerns and hazards from every perspective and agree on solutions that will satisfy all concerns. It’s critical for the future of our industry that we’re not jeopardizing the safety and health of our customers,” Miller explains, adding that the group leveraged IFAI’s ability to transmit these recommendations to its membership and that Snyder also communicates with its manufacturing customers, enabling them to pass along this information. The best practices can be found in the June-July 2020 issue of InTents magazine, at InTentsMag.com (search “Recommendation for cleaning COVID-19 related tents”) and are available from most IFAI-member tent and tent fabric manufacturers. 

Preventing cross-contamination

Included in the “best practices” list is the recommendation to use only a quaternary disinfectant (a broad-spectrum disinfectant that will kill a wide range of viruses, Shipp says) that has a previous coronavirus rating, usually the human coronavirus and the SARS-associated coronavirus. Other guidelines are to avoid wetting down the fabric or equipment with water before applying the disinfectant; allowing for the appropriate dwell/soak time (always stated on the product’s label); and taking other measures, such as using a commercial sprayer to cover all surfaces including tables, chairs, flooring and even HVAC equipment, Shipp says.

“The interior [of the tent] is the most important surface to be sprayed—the exterior usually doesn’t come in contact with people and their frequent touch points,” he says. “However, inflatable renters are spraying the entire inside and outside.”

A quaternary disinfectant with a neutral pH is preferred for use on vinyl because it won’t damage the fabric, says Shipp. For vinyl-based products, it’s important to avoid using bleach-based cleaners because these will “rapidly accelerate the degradation of the vinyl,” says Joshua Propp, director, product development for Value Vinyls Inc. in Grand Prairie, Texas. The company offers a range of vinyls and fabrics to more than 40 markets, from heavy industrial to recreational to residential.

Shipp says his company has also been teaching infection-control techniques, as well as developing employee safety policies and procedures. This includes providing the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE)—such as one-piece clothing covers, masks, gloves and eye protection—and detailing the proper way to put on and remove this gear. The latter is not as simple as one might think. Shipps describes the sequence: 

  • After unzipping the coveralls, remove the shoulder section, pulling the outside and turning the sleeves inside out. Do the same for the legs, pulling each leg inside out. The entire coverall should then be inside out and off the body.
  • Take off shoe covers and turn them inside out.
  • Remove the first glove by holding the bottom cuff, then pulling it inside out and off. Then, take two fingers of the ungloved hand, slip them under the palm cuff of the remaining glove, and roll it up. Hold the interior of that glove, taking it off and turning it inside out.
  • Last, remove the safety glasses/face shield and then the mask. After discarding disposable items, wash hands for at least 20 seconds or use a large amount of hand sanitizer.

“The key is to focus on how easily cross-contamination does take place,” Shipp says. “Something as simple as disinfecting the pens you and the customer use is critical.”

Renters of high touch fabric products such as bounce houses are disinfecting both the interior and exterior surfaces to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, according to Chuck Shipp, president of Shipp Cleaning Systems. Photo: Dreamstime.

The road ahead

Propp says Value Vinyls was quick to research disinfecting/cleaning products that would reduce or eliminate the spread of COVID-19 without negatively affecting the performance and lifespan of their products. It’s analyzing the performance of specific cleaners against its products in the field to determine their effectiveness.

“Having our own in-house lab and personnel dedicated to testing, we developed and distributed a FAQ which provides the recommended cleaner, links to the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] to gather more information, and cleaning solutions that are not recommended,” he says. 

Value Vinyls is also researching how antimicrobial treatments—which many of its products have—might help combat the COVID-19 strain, although as of yet, the company doesn’t have a clear understanding of the potential impact, Propp says. Still, he adds, building in additional antimicrobial protection that will inhibit the growth of bacteria is a “growing requirement,” a demand he believes will only accelerate, thanks to the heightened public awareness of germs overall.

Snyder’s laminates and coated meshes have antimicrobial properties engineered into the company’s PVCs and adhesives, says Miller. Additionally, the company is exploring alternative adhesives that might be able to repel or neutralize viruses and bacteria.

Shipp believes the use of antimicrobial coatings and antimicrobial-embedded tents, inflatables and fabrics might one day become ubiquitous, expecting demand will accelerate, especially as more fabrics containing this performance feature are produced, driving down the costs and further fueling their use.

“Although presently, [antimicrobials] are mainly used in medical facilities, the day may come where this is the normal for most everyday fabrics,” Shipp says. “Now, our society in everyday life is on the lookout for cross-contamination from one surface to the next. So antimicrobial-embedded fabrics in all walks of life may be in our future.” 

Pamela Mills-Senn is a Seal Beach, Calif.-based freelance writer.


SIDEBAR: Cleaning vs. disinfecting

Following the COVID-19 outbreak, textile supplier Designtex hosted a webinar on cleaning and disinfecting fabrics. The webinar emphasized that cleaning and disinfecting. are not the same. Products for soil and stain removal may not be effective disinfectants, and products that disinfect may not be effective for soil and stain removal. Cleaning removes germs, dirt, and impurities from surfaces or objects through the use of soap (or detergent) and water.  Disinfecting refers to using chemicals, such as EPA-registered disinfectants, to kill germs on surfaces. This process does not necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs, but by killing germs on a surface after cleaning, the risk of spreading infection is lowered. For more, visit www.designtex.com.