Feature Stories

Coated with a Silver Lining: The Future of Antimicrobial Coatings

Silver symbolizes elegance, sophistication, and wealth. Items of beauty such as flatware, jewelry, serving dishes, and chandeliers are often made from silver. While the aesthetics of silver make for added extravagance and allure, its medicinal properties help support the need for good hygiene.    


Silver has been used for centuries because of its antimicrobial effects. It interferes with bacteria cell membranes to inhibit respiration and growth. In the days before modern antiseptics, silver nitrate was used to treat open wounds and skin ulcers, and silver coins were tossed into barrels of drinking water to keep it fresh.


Today, silver weaves itself into the clothing industry, with the use of silver nanoparticles, particularly among activewear. Its use continues to grow in the healthcare industry.


“The mechanism is always on,” said Walter Zahn, Technology Manager at Axalta. “And even if the coating wears away, there are silver ions embedded evenly throughout the film so that it continues to work. That’s why this type of coating is great for high-frequency areas. Even if you clean them, people are going to come in and touch them again.”


Axalta’s leading powder coatings business has brought the benefits of silver into its Alesta® AM powder products. This coating is treated with silver zinc zeolite antimicrobial technology that is known to inhibit the growth of microbes on powder coated surfaces.  Alesta® AM is used by companies around the world to coat high-frequency areas, such as restaurants, playgrounds, and childcare facilities.


“The silver ions are embedded in the coated surface and have a slow and steady release,” said Michael Heinrichsen, Market Segment Manager for Axalta Powder Coatings.


E&R Powder Coatings used Alesta® AM for bed frames at a temporary hospital at McCormick Place in Chicago, IL, which is being used for coronavirus patients.


While the overall benefits of this coating are significant, it’s equally as critical that it lasts and remains effective, even under demanding and often harsh conditions. A study conducted by the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Rice University found that even after 30 wash cycles, antimicrobial activity remains effective.


“Longevity is one of the many advantages of the Alesta® AM products. The manufacturing process we use ensures uniform distribution of the material throughout the coating layer for long-term performance,” added Zahn.


But antimicrobial properties alone aren’t enough to convince a buyer to buy these coatings. After all, coatings are applied to external surfaces, so of course, they also must meet certain aesthetic expectations.


“We can incorporate the antimicrobial properties into any color a customer wants,” said Heinrichsen. “You would not be able to tell the difference between a regular color and a color with added antimicrobial technology. It would have the same appearance.”


This characteristic is particularly of interest in the automotive industry, where interior and exteriors colors are an important consideration for many consumers.


“I could see these coatings becoming popular in the automotive industry. There are a lot of areas in your car that you touch,” said Heinrichsen.


The antimicrobial properties of these coatings coupled with their availability in a full range of colors, textures and glosses, make these coatings a key part of our future, particularly in response to coronavirus, as we embark on the “new normal” that our global society faces.


Axalta makes no public health claims in connection with its Alesta®-AM products. Antimicrobial protection is limited to the coating itself, and does not protect against disease-causing bacteria, viruses, germs, or other disease-causing organisms.