From flu pandemics to staph outbreaks to debates over antibacterial soaps, germs are making headlines. Years ago, far ahead of these recent news items, manufacturers noticed increased interest in antimicrobial building products. “We have information from surveys that 7 out of 10 consumers want products with antimicrobial protection,” says Gina Covell, public relations director for Silestone's parent company Cosentino North America. Silestone (below) has offered Microban antimicrobial protection in its quartz surfaces since 2006.

Microban works with several industry manufacturers who want to stave off bacteria, mold, and mildew growth in their products. Partner companies include American Standard, Broan/Nutone, CorrectDeck (right), DAP, DuPont, Laticrete, and Lennox.

With such a wide range of products to treat, vice president of marketing Kathy Hall says Microban works individually with each company to build the additive into the manufacturing process. “Microban becomes part of the molecular structure of the products it protects,” she says, “so our durability tests show it will stay with the material and continue to work over time.”

Foss Manufacturing's Fosshield is similarly engrained in the company's engineered fabrics, though the process is different. “We're able to put additives of ionized copper and silver, which are natural antimicrobials, into our polyester fiber as we extrude it, so the treatment becomes part of the core and sheath of each fiber,” says Dave Rowell, executive vice president of marketing. The fabrics are then made into everything from HVAC filtration to carpet padding.

Across applications, manufacturers carefully define what antimicrobial additives do and don't do. “Bacteria and mold are present everywhere, and the job of Microban as we use it is to protect surfaces susceptible to bacteria between cleanings,” Covell says. “This is especially important in kitchens and bathrooms, which are hot spots for moisture and food contamination.”

“Users have to remember that the only things that are really protected are the treated articles themselves — the carpet, the curtain, the blanket,” Rowell adds. “These treatments can protect against the colonization of bacteria on surfaces, but it doesn't replace a regular cleaning routine.”