New Fabric Coating May Repel COVID-19

May 25, 2020

 Some health care workers on the front line of Coronavirus still don’t have enough personal protective gear. But researchers may have a solution to the PPE shortage. 

Personal protective equipment is meant to be a lifesaver for medical professionals and care givers, but short supply of the gear often means they re-use them, potentially spreading the virus. So, University of Pittsburgh researchers switched gears from their work on a fabric coating that can repel blood and other liquids, to one that might be able to repel Coronavirus.

Credit CDC

William Ducker is a chemist at Virginia Tech who specializes in coatings for objects and surfaces to protect human health and is familiar with their work.   “What they did was, they took ScotchBrite, the thing that you'd scrub an old pot with, and they rubbed that against the material.”  But it wasn’t just a couple of people scrubbing a piece of cloth. “So, if you and I were cleaning a pot, we might rub it, you know, like for a minute or so. They rubbed it (mechanically) once a second, for a whole day. And at the end of that time, it was still super hydrophobic."   That means, their fabric coating held up to all that washing and continued to repel liquids and viruses.

Ducker says the fabric coating is made of particles similar to Teflon.  “And they did a great job of it when they put droplets of blood ‘mimic’ or water on their new fabric, the water just rolled right off it. So, they not only achieved the ‘hydrophobicity’ they were looking for, in other words water repellent, but they also achieved a level of durability for this fabric coating that could allow for repeated washings and safe re-use by caregivers.


Ducker points out, that so far, it’s been tested only against “…a type of virus called adeno virus. Clearly, they had started this research before the Corona virus epidemic, so they haven't tested it against SARS, what people call the Coronavirus.”


Testing with COVID-19 is about to get underway and Ducker is optimistic about the ability to scale up production quickly.    “Their procedure is quite simple. So, for example, I think I could go in and reproduce what they did in my lab very easily. It's not complicated.”


The coating could also be used on waiting room chairs and other surfaces to prevent spreading the virus.

The research is from the LAMP Lab at the University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, recently published in the journal ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces.