Synthetic rubber of the kind already used to make some brands of medical gloves can be specially processed to kill germs on contact, according to a chemist who invented the technique.
The new process differs from earlier efforts to make germ-killing rubber because it does not depend on coating the material with a disinfectant that could be washed or worn off.
Instead, this process alters the chemical composition of the rubber itself, before the final products, such as gloves, are manufactured, a researcher announced at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society this week.
Dr. Shelby Davis Worley of Auburn University, Alabama, explained that any rubber containing polystyrene can be subjected to this process.
Polystyrene is found in industrial tubing, surgical gloves, protective suits and food packaging, and using the technique may make these products more resistant to disease-causing organisms.
The germ-killing effect comes from adding N-halamine (from the class of chemicals used to stabilize chlorine in pool water) and chlorine to the rubber's composition.
Laboratory experiments show that sheets of the chemically modified rubbers can kill high concentrations of disease-causing bacteria in 30 minutes, said Worley.
Over time, the chlorine in the rubber becomes depleted, but it can be restored by dipping the object in household concentrations of chlorine bleach, Worley noted.
The technology has been licensed to Halosource Corp. in Seattle, Wash., which specializes in antimicrobial technology.