Study Finds Textiles Are Unlikely Source Of COVID-19

Steelcase commissioned first-ever test on how the SARS-CoV-2 virus behaves on contract surface materials commonly found in offices.

Steelcase has announced the results of the first-ever test of how the SARS-CoV-2 virus behaves on contract surface materials commonly found in offices. In tests conducted by ResInnova Laboratories using the OC43 surrogate, the company found that:

  • No active virus was recovered from the polyurethane-coated fabric at the 2-hour mark.
  • No active virus was recovered from the 100% polyester fabric at the 12-hour mark.
  • Recovered active virus was reduced by 93.6% on the 100% wool fabric at the 24-hour mark.

Steelcase commissioned the tests in partnership with Designtex because, while many researchers have studied the virus’ durability on various materials, the only fabric that had been studied thus far was cotton, which is not common in workplaces. A Steelcase company, Designtex is focused on development, design and manufacturing of applied materials for the built environment.

Photo: Steelcase

“For the thousands of companies that have products with these materials in their offices, this test provides an added level of reassurance,” added Melissa Hart, director, Steelcase Surface Materials. “We already know that porous materials like fabrics tend to be low risk for virus transmission. Now, as millions of employees return to the office after more than a year of working from home, they can feel confident that the materials used in their office furniture play an effective role in creating safer workplaces.”

Recent Steelcase research shows workers returning to the office expect a greater emphasis on safety — citing air quality and adherence to safety protocols as top needs. This test, and surface material performance, serves as one part of the multi-faceted approach to workplace health and safety recommended by Steelcase, which also includes human behavior, air management, application and product design, and cleaning and disinfecting practices.

“While routine cleaning and disinfection protocols are still important, office users concerned with pathogen transmission can now consider a wider array of contract fabrics, beyond those that are bleach-treatable,” said Dr. Sharon Tracy, materials innovation scientist at Steelcase.

Steelcase is the first organization to test untreated contract fabrics using ISO 18184 and an ASTM-recommended surrogate for SARS CoV-2. The results, which reinforce the low risk of surface-to-surface transmission of COVID-19 from porous materials, were surprising enough to draw comment from ResInnova Laboratories’ leadership.

“These are impressive results from materials that have not been treated with an anti-viral additive,” said Dr. Matthew Hardwick, president and CEO of ResInnova Laboratories.

Steelcase’s material experts are still studying the “whys” behind the results, including what other material characteristics besides porosity may be contributing to the virus’ behavior, and whether these results are also true of other polyurethane, polyester and wool materials from Steelcase and Designtex.

Other enveloped viruses such as influenza A have displayed similar differential survival times on porous versus non-porous materials, further supporting the contention that textiles are likely not a predominant source of contact transmission during annual flu outbreaks, similar to SARS-CoV-2.

“We now have scientific evidence that porous materials like textiles have a place in maintaining the health and safety of interiors,” said Carol Derby, vice president of Research and Development at Designtex, which partnered with Steelcase on this project.

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