The garment industry relies a great deal on the textile industry for innovation and fresh ideas in regard to fabrics.  Speaking of “fresh” ideas, let’s learn about how silver textiles can help keep your clothing fresh with reduced odors.

Silver is a chemical element with symbol Ag and atomic number 47.  A soft, white, lustrous transition metal, it possesses the highest electrical conductivity, thermal conductivity and reflectivity of any metal.  The metal occurs naturally in its pure, free form (native silver), as an alloy with gold and other metals, and in minerals such as argentite and chlorargyrite.  Most silver is produced as a byproduct of copper, gold, lead, and zinc refining.  Silver has long been valued as a precious metal and is very frequently used in the jewelry market.  This metal can also be utilized in apparel and footwear.

‘Antimicrobial’ is simply the term used to describe something that has the ability to resist the growth of microbes.  While the term ‘antibacterial’ refers only to bacteria, ‘antimicrobial’ refers to a wider range of organisms including bacteria, molds, fungi and others.

Scientists have discovered that silver interrupts the bacteria cell’s ability to form the chemical bonds essential to its survival.  These bonds produce the cell’s physical structure so when bacteria meets silver it literally falls apart.  In 1893, the antibacterial effectiveness of various metals were noted and this property was named the oligodynamic effect. It was later found that out of all the metals with antimicrobial properties, silver has the most effective antibacterial action and the least toxicity to animal cells (Guggenbichler et al., 1999).

Silver fabric is helpful for reducing antibacterial effects on clothing and fashion accessories.  When the fabric is produced properly, the silver ions on the surface of a material treated with additives bind with microbes that come into contact with the surface and irreparably damage them, disrupting their normal cell function which stops them from reproducing and finally results in the death of the cell.  Terminating the bacteria cell is beneficial.

Silver nanoparticles have been used to impart antimicrobial activity to cotton fibers. Cotton samples were immersed in silver nanoparticle solutions and then subjected to a curing process to allow the nanoparticles to adhere to the cotton (El-Rafie et al., 2010).  A chemical binder was then applied to the fabric to help maintain nanoparticle-cotton binding.  Cotton samples prepared in this manner were able to reduce S. aureus and E. coli cell counts by 97% and 91% respectively.  Even after subjecting the fabric to 20 laundry cycles, the cotton samples were still able to reduce S. aureus and E. coli cell counts by 94% and 85% respectively.  Cotton prepared in this manner could be used by individuals working in the medical field or those who often work with microbes to prevent the spread of infectious bacteria (El-Rafie et al., 2010).  Read more at Silver is an Antimicrobial Agent.

 While silver can pose a problem if it’s ingested in high quantities, James Ranville, a chemistry professor at the Colorado School of Mines, told The Daily Beast that the health risk to humans from silver-infused fabric is negligible. “Most studies suggest human health risks are small,” he said. He did note, however, that no studies have looked at the risks of long-term exposure.

And while the silver-laden fabrics might not be harmful to humans, the trace amounts of silver dislodged by washing them could leak into the water supply in a harmful way, Ranville added. But he noted that these concerns are largely speculative at the moment—so the average consumer shouldn’t lose much sleep. So, even if the appeal of the fabric is less bacteria buildup and no bad smell, you should still clean your sheets and leggings in regular intervals.

Learn more about antimicrobial fabrics.

September 13, 2023 — Patrick Ayers

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