The antimicrobial benefits of natural materials in the workplace - Another Country


The antimicrobial benefits of natural materials in the workplace

For those continuing to work from home or for those of us returning to the office, adapting to innovative and new ways of working during this global pandemic is paramount. Ensuring a safe work place means a shift in focus to hygiene. Which raises the question, how clean are our work surfaces?

Interestingly, natural materials such as copper and wood, are in fact the best for both killing off germs and preventing bacteria to breed. Copper and its alloys, such as brass and bronze, have an inherent ability to kill a wide range of harmful microbes relatively rapidly and with a high degree of efficiency. Many of the dozens of different wood extracts have been found to have antibacterial properties, as the lignin that binds the fibres together has an antibacterial effect. In addition, wood surfaces dry fast and this dryness puts bacteria at a disadvantage.

Oak, specifically, exhibits a substantial hygienic performance and indicates an antibacterial effect, caused by a combination of the hygroscopic properties of wood and the effect of wood extractives. Oak shows the highest decrease rate in bacterial titre, followed by beech and ash. Think of the traditional Butcher’s Block, made from untreated timber and of which has been used in butchers shops for centuries, now popular in home use.

Bacteria survives the longest on plastic, followed by stainless steel. A recent experiment by the scientists at the University of Wisconsin, found that 99.9% of bacteria placed on wooden chopping boards died out completely within three minutes, whereas the plastic boards had very little effect in terms of killing dangerous microbes.

As furniture designers and makers, we have a responsibility to ensure that the materials we work with and the pieces we produce, fall into this remit of a healthy environment. Our recent research tells us that we are already one step ahead.