Is Glass more Hygienic than other Wall Panel Materials?

What is the importance of Hygiene relative to Interior Building Design?

People are thinking about hygiene more than ever these days. We are thinking about how to get and stay clean or free of dangerous contaminants. Part of good hygiene is to effectively clean high traffic surfaces. If you can’t completely clean or disinfect finished surfaces that people touch often we risk spreading or contaminating with potentially dangerous germs and viruses etc.

“The science of surfaces as a fomite (object or material that is capable of carrying infectious organisms and serve in their transmission) is just maturing. Research has shown that microbes can live on “clean and disinfected” surfaces for days, weeks and even months. How is this possible when surfaces are being regularly cleaned and disinfected? Below are seven aspects of surface selection that will help ES professionals to gain an understanding of why facilities must set surface criteria to minimize risk and prevent harm to patients, health care workers and the general public.”  from Seven aspects of Surface selection

What materials are used for building wall panels or cladding systems where good hygiene sanitary design is important?

  1. Back Painted Glass
  2. Ceramic Tiles
  3. Glass fiber or Fiberglass reinforced panels (FRP)
  4. High Pressure Laminate
  5. Marble or stone Tiles
  6. Painted Concrete Block Wall
  7. PVC Panels
  8. Solid Surface (e.g. Corian)
  9. Stainless Steel

What are some Natural and potentially dangerous Conditions that will occur on Porous and Nonporous Surfaces?

“A biofilm forms when certain microorganisms (for example, some types of bacteria) adhere to the surface of some object in a moist environment and begin to reproduce. The microorganisms form an attachment to the surface of the object by secreting a slimy, glue-like substance.” credit Montana University

What makes a wall cladding material more hygienic than another?

There are two factors that determine the best hygiene success rate. 

  1. Material Surface Texture – How porous the surface is affects the degree of contaminants that can accumulate. For example Glass is nonporous and concrete block is very porous.
  2. Material Seams – How many seams and what fills the seam to seal the wall is a factor determining the ability to achieve a high level of hygiene. For example one glass panel cut exactly to shape and size can fill an entire wall surface. Whereas Ceramic Tiles (which are nonporous) uses grout to seal the seams or joints. This makes the complete Ceramic Tile finished wall highly porous because the grout is highly porous and even when the grout is sealed it remains textured (porous).

What are the Benefits and Challenges of these various Materials?

Back Painted Glass

Glass is available in large stock sheets and can be cut and painted to size to larger than 4′-0″ x 8′-0″ pieces (1220mm x 2438mm) to minimize the number of seams or joints. The application is typically not structural glass. Tremendous variety is available to Architects and Stakeholders as they can select any color for the back painted glass.

The color is applied to surface #2 so that the painted surface is protected from scratching. The glass joints should be sealed with a “Sealant” like silicone which is a flexible elastic material. Caulk is more rigid when dry and can crack and separate from the glass.

Glass remains nonporous when the surface is not altered by acid etching or adding a matte finish.

Ceramic Tiles

While Ceramic Tiles are nonporous the grout material is very porous and difficult to keep clean. Ceramic tile was a traditional wall treatment for rooms that required good hygiene.

Ceramic Tiles have few limitations with cleaning materials but you must refer to the grout manufacturers recommendations regarding acceptable cleaning agents.

Glass fiber or Fiberglass reinforced panels (FRP)

These FRP panels are strong because they are manufactured with glass fibers but these same glass fibers can be inhaled when panels are cut to size during the installation process.

FRP can be manufactured with resins that withstand very strong disinfecting chemicals like Bleaches for example.

High Pressure Laminate

High pressure laminate is typically used in Office Furniture manufacturing. High pressure laminates are resistant to many chemicals like paint thinners for example but may not resist bleaches or full strength detergents.

Consult with manufacturers cleaning recommendations as high pressure laminate is a plastic based coating that will be damaged by strong cleaning chemicals.

Marble or Stone Tiles

Strong chemicals like bleach and ammonia are too acidic or caustic for use on Marble and will damage the finish. Surprisingly many strong disinfectants can damage the finish of Marble or other stone tiles.

Additionally, you must contend with the seams or joints and try to disinfect them.

Cleaning recommendations for marble really don’t offer disinfecting as most experts only recommend a dish soap solution.

Painted Concrete Block Wall

Experts recommend that concrete block walls receive a special primer to fill in the porous crevices and holes that are typical with any Concrete Block exterior walls. The top coat recommended is 100% Acrylic Latex paint.

Cleaning recommendations call for 2 steps: 

1) Mixing 3 parts warm water and 1 part detergent in a spray bottle, spray on the wall and scrub the surface clean with a non abrasive towel then spray the same area with clean water to rinse the area and 

2) Mixing a solution of 1 part bleach to 2 parts water spray the mixture on the wall and leave for 10 minutes, then rinse with clean water.

PVC Panels

PVC wall panels come in 16″ wide sheets and are 1/2″ thick with a wide variety of stock lengths and is often used as interior wall cladding and interior cladding for roof panels. Fasteners are concealed and material is recyclable.

Cleaning the panels with an anti-static solution is recommended. Manufactures websites recommends using soap and water but we question if this solution is strong enough to aggressively clean to a high hygienic level.

Solid Surface Material

Solid Surface Panels have many Brand names like Corian for example that comes in various different forms. This material is available in large sheets which reduces seams and joints.

Branded websites suggest you test your cleaning solution chemicals before attempting to clean the entire solid surface panel. Use a non abrasive cleaners for smooth surface finishes. One benefit of solid surface materials is that you can buff or sand out any scratches or gouges.

Stainless Steel Panels

Stainless steel metal wall panels are available in various finishes like #304 Brushed Finish or and 20 Gauge thick (0.032″ or 0.81mm thick). Stainless is popular in food processing environments as metal walls because it is low maintenance and corrosion resistant to food acids and water.

Branded websites recommend using mild soap or detergent so that the protective clear coat is not damaged.  

What are the Best Practices to Clean Wall Panels?

It’s important to note that some hard surface materials provide moisture protection because a secondary coating is applied during the manufacturing process but these coatings will wear off if not maintained or applied again. For example some Stainless Steel panels come with a protective clear coat to protect against corrosion and fingerprints.

In fact we suggest that cleaning staff, maintenance managers and environmental services professionals get cleaning recommendations from the contractors engaged to install the wall panels on what disinfectants can be used and what chemicals cannot be used.  

Conclusion:

Is glass more hygienic than other wall panel materials? The cleaning information available to us identifies Glass as the most adaptable material for intense hygienic cleaning. All other materials recommend less intense cleaning methods (soap and water) that leads us to question the effectiveness of cleaning any material cladding surface that must be free from contagious contaminates and medical grade hygienic.