What Is Antibacterial Fabric?

Mary McMahon

Antibacterial fabric resists colonization by bacteria to reduce the risk of spreading infection and developing unpleasant odors. It can be used in health care settings to protect patients and is also found in products like sports clothing and bedding. There are a number of ways to treat fabric to create antibacterial properties of varying efficacy. Textile manufacturers involved in research and development on this topic are interested in identifying cost-effective ways of controlling bacterial growth on fabrics.

Bamboo fabric naturally resists bacterial growth.
Bamboo fabric naturally resists bacterial growth.

Some fibers naturally resist bacterial growth, particularly bamboo. Fabrics made from bamboo fiber can be less hospitable to microorganisms and this can endure through numerous washings. Other fabrics need to be treated with dips, sprays, and other finishes that coat the fabric or components. The best option can depend on how the fabric will be used.

Bandages may be made with antibacterial fabric to reduce risk to patients.
Bandages may be made with antibacterial fabric to reduce risk to patients.

Nanoparticles are used in some antibacterial fabric, particularly silver particles. These can confer long-lasting protection against unwanted organisms. Fabric designers need to consider human and environmental health when they add finishes to textile products, and thus exercise some caution in recommended coatings. One concern with nanoparticles is the possibility of being absorbed through the skin and causing health problems.

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Antibacterial fabric is often marketed to people concerned about odors.
Antibacterial fabric is often marketed to people concerned about odors.

Bandages and other medical products can be made with antibacterial fabric to reduce risks to patients. They can limit the spread of disease and control infection by inhibiting the growth of bacterial colonies on the patient’s own body. Other infection control measures are still necessary, such as regularly removing dressings to clean wounds and apply fresh bandages. It is also important to avoid becoming too reliant on the protection offered by fabric, because some organisms may be resistant.

In sports gear and other contexts, antibacterial fabric is often marketed to people concerned about odors. Bacterial colonies have trouble living in the fabric, which can reduce bad smells and staining caused by sweating heavily. The fabric may also resist fungi and other unwanted microorganisms, depending on the design. This can also be useful for products like towels and bathrobes, which can attract colonies because they may spend a lot of time in warm, moist environments that facilitate growth.

A number of treatments are available for fabrics to help them resist bacteria. Manufacturers may offer an array of options to customers. It’s usually possible to request antibacterial fabric swatches to determine how the treatment affects the look and feel of the finished textile. These can help customers decide which option would be the most suitable.

Sweat mixing with bacteria on the skin often leads to body odor.
Sweat mixing with bacteria on the skin often leads to body odor.

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Discussion Comments


@clintflint - Merino is a good fabric to look into. I know that Icebreaker makes all their clothes from merino wool and they claim that you can wear their shirts pretty much indefinitely without any body odor, which I assume would work the same way with their socks.

Bamboo is another option and it's generally cheaper than merino as well, but I don't think it's quite as effective.


@bythewell - I had a particular brand that I would always buy whenever they went on sale, but I recently stopped doing that because I know they use silver nanoparticles in their fabric and apparently those are really bad for the environment. It seems weird to think about your socks in relation to the environment, but when you wash them the chemicals used get into the water and nanoparticles are difficult to filter out.

When you consider the fact that they are designed to kill bacteria you can see why they might not be the best thing to flush into waterways and lakes.

I haven't yet found a brand that I like to replace them though. The annoying thing is that the really good antibacterial fabrics are usually very expensive but you don't know how it will suit you until after you've bought it.


I once bought some antibacterial sports socks with my sports shoes, not realizing that they were so expensive, but they were worth every penny. They lasted for years and never developed a smell (neither did the shoes I wore them with) even though that has been unavoidable with other socks I've had.

I just wish they had more of a range of styles, as they only seem to come in white and striped versions rather than kinds that can be worn with everyday shoes or even dressy shoes.

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