Touchy subject: what antimicrobial hardware should you be specifying?

The demand for antimicrobial hardware was pushed up when Covid made hygiene an issue in settings beyond healthcare, and with the return to work that need is on the rise again

Francis Crick Insitute uses copper hardware

Covid changed so many things. But one of the chief shifts we have seen in architectural ironmongery is the rising demand for anti-microbial products and door hygiene. This is not just in healthcare settings where anti-infection products are nothing new. The pandemic created a need for anti-microbial products in far more prosaic settings than just hospitals, even more so with the ‘great return to work’ now underway. Using a door handle is like shaking hands with thousands of strangers so everyone is looking to offer protection to those who pass through their space. 

This places a responsibility on specifiers and therefore means they need to be armed with reliable product knowledge. Daniel May, director at Consort explains: “We’re at a point where decision makers are under pressure to keep building hygiene standards as high as ever before. And outside of the clear-cut hygiene measures, it’s understood that more can be done throughout the building design process, with architectural hardware selection at the core of decisions.

“Door hardware is the first touchpoint when entering, exiting or navigating a building, and can be one of the most bacteria-ridden. Yet, the latest in hardware advancements could give facility managers an edge in the fight against infection.”

How do you know what to specify? 

There have been many products flooding the market making claims about their ability to fight pathogens. Such has been the prevalence of new products offering antimicrobial benefits that the GAI now advises: ‘any company who is making any claims that their product kills the Covid-19 virus MUST ensure they have solid evidence of the product’s efficacy against it.”

A good place to start is with copper and silver. Both have longstanding proven anti-microbial properties in nature, but what about when they are used in ironmongery?

 Secusan® from HOPPE is one example. An antibacterial and antimicrobial surface for door and window handles, it provides active protection against the spread of
germs and bacteria, immediately and permanently suppressing the growth of pathogens on the handle, thanks to a coating that contains silver ions. Silver destroys the cell membrane of the germs and therefore blocks cell respiration and cell ingestion. 

HOPPE claims independent tests have shown that SecuSan® reduces the growth of germs in this way by more than 99%.

Copper is a also a powerful antimicrobial. Touch surfaces made from solid antimicrobial copper are used in hygiene sensitive environments around the world. In a laboratory setting, multiple studies demonstrate that copper kills 99.9% of pathogens in as little as one minute. Clinical trials in a variety of hospital wards around the world have shown a continuous reduction in viruses and bacteria of greater than 80% on copper surfaces compared to non-copper equivalents. The largest clinical trial to date is a two-year study by the University of Virginia at a local hospital. The trial monitored HCAI levels in two wards – one with copper products installed, and one which remained unmodified. Both these studies were then compared against a baseline of historic data on HCAI transmission at the hospital over the same length of time. The copper wing had 78% fewer HCAIs when compared to the baseline period. In comparison, no changes in rates of HCAI were observed in the unmodified hospital wing.  

Further evidence that copper can kill Covid-19 has emerged in the last year. A study in February 2021 by Professor Bill Keevil at the University of Southampton concluded that copper could kill Covid-19 in minutes. The methodology used in this test simulated the viral load typically found from a touch (dry) or sneeze (wet) on hard surface materials.

One established product is Contego from Allgood: a range of ironmongery and door hardware, made from a 70% copper-nickel alloy, it was used in the prestigious Francis Crick Institute. Contego has the same antimicrobial performance as 100% copper. The alloy is one of 500 copper alloys classified as public health antimicrobial products in 2008 by the (now defunct) Copper Development Association (CDA) and validated by the EPA. 

Ben Dean, managing director at Dortrend, is keen to stress the integrity of its product Touchclean, a nano based technology that removes organisms on contact and continues to suppress microbial growth. It uses UV light with added silver. “We have ‘real world’ testing. One of our real world settings was application to a sheet instead of what most solutions do which I would describe as a drop test (they have simply tested the actual liquid in its liquid form). It is something specifiers should look out for.”

Chris Mamas of Poole, Waite and Co warns specifiers to guard against claims being made for hardware’s proprieties especially copper and nickel. “Test evidence is being misrepresented on anti-viral performance between different alloys of Cu/Ni which basically depends on the Cu concentration of the alloy of interest.”

Real world criteria

Allgood CEO, Alistair Higgins, says it is essential to assess products according to their performance in real-world environments. “Many antimicrobial ironmongery claims are based on compliance with international standard ISO22196. This standard involves a lab test with very high ambient temperature (>35C) and humidity (>90%). The HSE advises that indoor working environments should be maintained at around 23C and 50% humidity, so – unless you are specifying a steam room – this undermines the application of IS022196 inside buildings. 

 “The question for specifiers is ‘would this work in my building?’ Ask for either laboratory test evidence where a product performs in typical indoor conditions or, better still, results where it has worked in the real world itself.”

 Touchpoints have become a touchy subject but by doing your homework and looking for integrity in materials and evidence you’re better equipped.

10 top tips for specifing antimicrobial products

  • If using an anti-microbial or anti-bacterial coating such as silver or titanium dioxide check with the manufacturer how robust the coating is against wear and tear, and also check if there are any cleaning agents which may decrease the efficacy.
  • If your client prefers anti-microbial protection as part of the material or which is embedded within then consider copper, copper alloy or nylon with embedded agents.
  • Be aware there are currently NO existing EN or ISO standards which relate to the anti-bacterial and anti-microbial coating of hardware.All existing standards relate to laboratory tests which do not reflect real-world environments including temperature and humidity.
  • If specifying a product, check if there are any reference sites where the product has been used, and any analysis available from this on its efficacy.
  • If you are being asked to specify product as part of an overall touch-free solution consider other products such as electro-magnetic hold open devices or door automation in respect of door controls. Never specify any products which hold open a fire door unless they are electro-magnetic and covered under the relevant harmonised/designated standard.
  • Consider the impact of access control on assisting with a touch free specification for locking.
  • Consider the specification and supply of relevant ancillary products such as grab rails and washroom products with anti-bacterial or anti-microbial coatings to complete a specification.
  • When specifying new solutions which claim to offer anti-microbial protection, take care not to use untested products on fire doors.
  • Consult industry guidance such as GAI Specifiers Guide on Ironmongery in a post pandemic world.
  • Be very careful what claims you make when promoting or specifying anti-bacterial and anti-microbial furniture in respect of Covid-19 unless you have solid evidence.
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