Brands are rolling out apparel made of fabrics with antiviral technology in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus. But is the clothing necessary?
In March, Swiss textile group HeiQ announced it had developed a treatment for textiles called Viroblock NPJ03 that it says is antiviral and antimicrobial.
The company said the treatment — an “invisible film” for fabrics, per Vogue — reduces 99.9% of SARS-CoV-2 after 30 minutes, the virus that causes COVID-19.
Artistic Denim Mills, a denim and garment manufacturer based in Pakistan, announced in June that it would partner with HeiQ to treat its products with Viroblock in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.
“COVID-19 has reset the world,” Faisal Ahmed, CEO of Artistic Denim Mills, said in a news release. “This means we have to change how we live our lives. How our clothes protect us will be a key decision in what we buy and wear, and we are happy to introduce various products treated with HeiQ Viroblock NPJ03.”
Denim brand Diesel and active wear brand UnderArmour have both adopted antiviral technology for new products.
Diesel is partnering with Swedish firm Polygiene to add a product called ViralOff to some of its 2021 denim offerings, the company said in a news release. The product “works by interacting with key proteins” to prevent the virus from attaching to fabrics. Diesel is aiming to offer a wider range of apparel made with ViralOff in the future.
UnderArmour’s Sportsmask features an “anti-microbial treatment on the inside layer to help keep the mask fresh.”
Do you need antiviral clothing?
Experts say you probably don’t need antiviral apparel.
Coronavirus is primarily transmitted person-to-person through respiratory droplets produced when a person coughs or sneezes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It’s believed that SARS-CoV-2 doesn’t survive long on soft surfaces, and doctors say the likelihood of catching the virus from your clothing is pretty low.
“I don’t think [antiviral clothing] will make a difference in preventing COVID-19,” Boston infectious disease specialist Simone Wildes told ABC. “Those of us who work in the hospital just wear gowns with all the protective gear which seems to work just fine, and we don’t have antiviral clothing.”
Daniel Kuritzkes, professor of medicine at Harvard University and chief of the division of infectious diseases at a Boston hospital, agrees that antiviral clothing isn’t necessary, according to Everyday Health.
“Unless you’re licking your pants, no one is getting COVID-19 from their clothing,” he told the outlet. “I’m sure the material does inactivate the virus, but if so, so what? You’d still get [COVID-19] the way everyone else is getting COVID-19.”
Giancarlo Beevis is CEO of biotech company Intelligent Fabric Technologies North America (IFTNA) which developed Protex, the fabric treatment used in the UnderArmour Sportsmask. He told Everyday Health that treatments like Protex can help put people at ease during the pandemic.
“If someone sneezes on a bench, then you sit on it and wipe your hands on your pants and then touch your nose, that’s a big area where we can see [Protex] working. It’s prevention in day-to-day life,” he told the outlet.
Calling a product antiviral
Experts are also cautioning makers of these antiviral textiles to be careful how they market their products.
For instance, Viroblock is not yet allowed to be marketed as “antiviral” in the U.S. — a label that would also require pesticidal device registration, ABC News reported. However, the verbiage is permitted in Germany, according to the outlet.
Last year, medical apparel brand Figs was sued for saying its apparel was “antimicrobial” and could decrease infections, a suit that the plaintiff ultimately decided to have “dismissed with prejudice,” Business of Fashion reported.
In a statement, Figs said it is “proud that the antimicrobial properties of our fabric inhibit the growth of odor-causing microbes to offer fabric protection, durability and freshness when healthcare professionals need it most,” according to the outlet.
Government agencies including the Federal Trade Commission and Environmental Protection Agency are keeping close watch on products making medical claims, including that they can prevent COVID-19, Business of Fashion reported.
To this end, online marketplace Etsy instituted guidelines earlier this year for how sellers can advertise their masks, McClatchy News previously reported. Sellers are not allowed to say masks are medical devices or prevent coronavirus.
“In the current environment, there is a market for anything that might protect us, and therefore these particular government agencies are trying to stand between unethical and overly enthusiastic companies and desperate and gullible consumers,” Susan Scafidi, director of the Fashion Law Institute at Fordham University’s School of Law, told Business of Fashion. “But that being said, the technologies are exciting.”