Dec. 2, 2022 – It's difficult to keep surfaces clean in public spaces, and so much of what we touch is covered in bacteria and other microbes that can make us sick. Handwashing is the best defense against the spread of illness, but what if the surfaces we are touching in public could be protected with a spray that eliminates illness-causing microorganisms?

This is exactly what a team of immunologists and engineering and material scientists at the University of Michigan have developed. A new patent is in the works, based on the technology from their research, funded in part by the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense, and the Office of Naval Research.

Current ways to keep surfaces germ-free aren't thorough or long-lasting, especially in places that see a lot of foot traffic, like workplaces, schools, airports, and hospitals. Copper and zinc, for example, can take a long time to kill bacteria and cannot be used for all surfaces. Disinfectant cleaners kill microbes much more quickly – in a few minutes or less – but evaporate and leave the surface vulnerable to collecting new bacteria.

Add Tea Tree and Cinnamon Oils

The experimental coating developed by the scientists is clear, so it can be sprayed or brushed onto any surface. It's also safe for people to touch since its antimicrobial ingredients come from tea tree and cinnamon oils, both used since ancient times to destroy germs. Another key ingredient, polyurethane, is a synthetic compound that ensures the coating stays tough and durable in high-use conditions.

In testing, the coating not only destroyed SARS-CoV-2 – the virus that causes COVID-19 but it also killed E. coli, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), and other troublesome pathogens that cause substantial illness worldwide.

Despite evidence supporting the safety of the ingredients, the scientists did toxicity testing that confirmed the coating's safety and published their findings in the journal Matter.

After the antimicrobial was subjected to repeated cleaning and other heavy use for months, it knocked out 99.9% of microbes when used on keyboards, cellphone screens, and even kitchen cutting boards that had been covered in raw chicken.

One application can last at least 6 months before a fresh coat is needed to ensure it remains effective. 

Though the current formula worked on the pathogens the team tested, the specific method used to create the coating allows scientists to switch out ingredients in the coating to target specific microbes. The technology has been licensed to Hygratek, a company founded by one of the scientists on the team.

While this new option will not eliminate the importance of good hand hygiene, it certainly could reduce the likelihood of getting sick after touching treated surfaces.

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Matter: "Surfaces with instant and persistent antimicrobial efficacy against bacteria and SARS-CoV-2."

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