A simple online search for anti-microbial clothing and you are bound to come across an assortment of brand names, even Adidas, promoting their products, mostly sportswear. But are they really safe? To answer this question, researchers at the Hohenstein Institute tested the safety of such anti-bacterial textiles. The result: Even in cases of volunteers, who wore those clothing articles for an extended period of time, their skin flora was not affected.

Over the last years, anti-microbial textiles have gained popularity. It started off in the medical sector in an approach to cut down on cross-infection between patients and to ensure the safety of the hospital staff. Recently, the industry has managed to find potential customers, those who are interested in sport and outdoor activities, looking for ways to control bad odours. The majority of these products, found on the market, are manufactured using anti-bacterial silver strands, which help in “eliminating 99.9% of odour-causing bacteria” as one ad claims. Furthermore, one firm releases products to be used in cases of neurodermatitis. On their homepage, it is stated that, “our silver textiles provide a realistic alleviation of this agonizing skin disease” and are backed up by statements of health experts.

Despite the previous positive experiences concerning the implementation of silver, like in the purification of water, anti-bacterial clothing have raised a controversial discussion in the media. This encouraged researchers to run a 6-week-long experiment, in which 60 healthy volunteers participated. For the study, special T-shirts were manufactured, which conveyed antimicrobial activity on one side, yet a non-antibacterial placebo effect on the other. For confirmation that this model actually did exert an antibacterial effect, the T-shirts were tested in the laboratory using Staphylococcus aureus und Klebsiella pneumonia. The volunteers were instructed to wear the T-shirts for at least 8 hours each day during the course of 4 weeks. The researchers analyzed on a weekly basis several parameters concerning the skin flora. In all the participating volunteers, the skin flora, both before and after, were within the normal range. There were no threats of a skin pathogen at any time. Therefore, these clothes have been characterized as being harmless and it seems like, their market will continue to expand as more people appreciate the benefits of leading an active life style.

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