Jeff Herman
Mar 20, 2012

Chlorinated silk: Hottest new microbe-stopping fashion in hospital wear?

Silk threadDue to its deadly nature and near invulnerability, the fear of anthrax being used in a terrorist attack is quite high; however, scientists have developed a new, simple procedure to chlorinate silk, giving the fabric strong antimicrobial effects. Chlorinated silk can kill anthrax spores within minutes.  This technology has definite implications for the defense against bioterrorism, and researchers hypothesize that it may also be useful in the purification of contaminated water.  I wonder how chlorinated silk would work as a fashion statement.

I must admit, fashion is something that is simply beyond me.  While, my wife has gotten me to watch Project Runway, which can be quite addicting, I am completely oblivious to the concept of matching colors, clashing styles, labels or why one style of clothes is better or worse than the other, nor do I really care.  I am a jeans and t-shirt kind of guy, plain and simple; however, chlorinated silk is something I can get behind. 

Further safety tests would need to be performed before this fabric could ever be used in clothing, but if it does prove to be safe, its use in hospitals would be invaluable. Secondary viral, bacterial and fungal infections are a major leading cause of hospital-related deaths.  These types of microbes are everywhere, and when healthy, are normally not a problem, but rarely is a healthy person a hospital patient. Maintaining optimal hospital-wide hygiene should be an utmost priority; however, a hospital is not a closed system, and controlling for possible infectious agents is an uphill battle.  

Silk loomsBy introducing chlorinated silk in hospital garb, such as scrubs and lab coats, not only will it improve the breathability and perhaps the comfort of hospital personnel, but it could potentially lessen the chance of microbe transference from one patient to another.  It was also noted several years ago that a doctor’s necktie was a major source of staph infections.  For the doctor-on-the-go, a stylish 'power' chlorinated silk necktie could prove to be a simple fix to reduce infections. Chlorinated silk hospital gowns, sheets, and curtains could also be extremely helpful.  If these can be combined with other new up and coming improvements on hospital hygiene technology and policies, the level of secondary infections could decrease dramatically.  Of course, silk isn’t cheap, and it is unclear if this method would be cost-effective. But, if lives are saved, then is any cost too high?

But, why stop there?  What about everyday clothes for the rest of us?  If we could start making silk chlorinated clothes, perhaps we could stop disease epidemics before they start.  Sounds like a good plan in theory, right?  I know I don’t like being sick and if I can find an easy way to stop it, then I’m on board; however, when it comes to the war against microbes, we are on the losing end.  We simply cannot win.  It’s not a pessimistic statement, it is a simple fact. There are too many microbes and they evolve too rapidly.  Overuse of chlorinated silk, similar to the overuse of antibiotics and anti-biotic soaps, will lead to resistant microbes.  Once a microbe becomes resistant to normal means of treatment, successfully eradicating an infection will become extremely difficult.

Chlorinated silk may prove to be an exceptional invention that will protect us against potential bioterrorism and maintain hospital hygiene.  As a new fashion style; however, I find it exceptionally difficult to envision chlorinated silk being used in an episode of Project Runway anytime soon. 

Related Articles: Killer silk: Making silk fibers that kill anthrax and other microbes in minutes