Putting the brakes on bacteria

Online Editor

How passenger health and safety can be improved with antimicrobial automotive interiors.

Our hands touch multiple surfaces throughout the day, accumulating microbes that can be easily transferred to the insides of our vehicles. Automotive interiors are generally washed far less frequently than other surfaces and, with carpooling becoming increasingly common, even regular cleaning may be insufficient to prevent microbial growth that can cause odours and staining. As a result, there is rising consumer demand for automotive brands to incorporate built-in antimicrobial solutions into car interiors, offering 24/7 product protection and helping prevent the growth of microbes between cleans.

The dirty truth

Research has revealed that car interiors can act as significant reservoirs of pathogens that are a threat to human health, with evidence of methicillin-resistant strains of Staphylococcus aureus colonies in shared vehicles. According to one study, the typical steering wheel harbours more bacteria than a public toilet, indicating that there is a big cause for concern. However, despite awareness of how unclean vehicles can be, automotive interiors are rarely cleaned, making them susceptible to the accumulation of dirt, food crumbs and debris. This can create the perfect conditions for microbes to thrive and grow, resulting in odours, staining and premature product deterioration, affecting both the aesthetics and value of a vehicle. Even for individuals who clean often, the use of standard disinfectants is only a short-term solution that offers limited residual activity against microorganisms.

Growing concern

Built-in antimicrobial technologies can help to address damaging microbial growth on automotive surfaces, and a rise in hygiene awareness following the pandemic has sparked increasing customer demand for added surface protection. A recent consumer survey found that 1 in 2 motorists would be interested in antimicrobial features for their next personal vehicle. End users want enhanced cleanliness for the numerous touchpoints within car interiors, particularly for door handles, seats, steering wheels, touch screen displays and central consoles.

Benefits of antimicrobial chemistries

Antimicrobial technologies work to disrupt the vital life processes of contaminating microbes, reducing their growth or reproduction on a treated surface. These formulations can be incorporated into a wide range of materials during the manufacturing process to provide ‘always on’ protection that does not wash off or wear away. When used in conjunction with routine cleaning using surface disinfection products, integrating antimicrobial protection into in-vehicle hard and soft surfaces can help to ensure automotive components stay cleaner, smell fresher, and last longer. Ultimately, this can lead to sustainability benefits by encouraging both car sharing and multi-occupant vehicle usage, contributing to a more circular economy.

Motorists will soon expect antimicrobial features as standard in their automobiles, and brands will need to partner with trusted and experienced technology providers to develop tailored solutions that are matched to existing manufacturing processes. In a time of heightened concern, antimicrobial solutions offer a way to help protect automotive interiors from the damaging effects of microbes, providing drivers and passengers alike with a more hygienic environment and greater peace of mind.

Kimberley Cherrington is at Microban International.

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