Durable coating can kill COVID virus, other germs in minutes

Credit: CC0 Public Domain.

Scientists from the University of Michigan developed the first durable coating that can quickly kill bacteria and viruses, and keep on killing them for months at a time.

It proved deadly to SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19), E. coli, MRSA, and a variety of other pathogens.

It killed 99.9% of microbes even after months of repeated cleaning, abrasion, and other punishment on real-world surfaces like keyboards, cell phone screens, and chicken-slathered cutting boards.

The coating could be a game changer in traditionally germ-laden public spaces like airports and hospitals.

The coating, which is clear and can be brushed or sprayed on, gets its durability and germ-killing power by combining tried-and-true ingredients in a new way.

It uses antimicrobial molecules derived from tea tree oil and cinnamon oil, both used for centuries as safe and effective germ killers that work in under two minutes.

The coating’s durability comes from polyurethane, a tough, varnish-like sealer that’s commonly used on surfaces like floors and furniture.

The results suggest that the coating could keep killing germs for six months or longer before its oil begins to evaporate and reduce its disinfectant power.

But even then, the team says it can be recharged by wiping it with fresh oil; the new oil is reabsorbed by the surface, starting the cycle again.

They estimate that the technology could be commercially available within a year.
The key challenge was to combine the oil and polyurethane in a way that let the oil molecules do their germ-killing work while preventing them from evaporating quickly.

The research team found a possible solution in cross-linking, a well-known process that uses heating to link materials together at the molecular level.

The smaller oil molecules readily combined with the cross-linking polymer molecules, forming a stable matrix.

But to kill germs, the oil molecules need to penetrate their cell walls, which they can’t do if they’re tightly tethered into the matrix.

Eventually, they found a middle ground by partially cross-linking the materials—enough to keep some of the oil molecules free to do their work, but keeping others bound tightly to the polyurethane.

The team emphasizes that they’re not locked into one specific formula; the understanding of individual ingredients’ properties enables them to tweak the formula for specific applications or rebalance the antimicrobial agents to kill specific germs.

If you care about Covid, please read studies about new way to prevent COVID-19 variants and the differences between the flu and COVID-19.

For more information about COVID, please see recent studies about drug that can offer much-needed COVID-19 protection, and results showing scientists find new antibody treatments for COVID-19.

The research was conducted by Anish Tuteja et al.

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