University of Michigan researchers develop durable coating that kills viruses, bacteria in minutes

‘New technology could start making public spaces safer within a year,’ writes U-M

A person in protective equipment applies a spray solution to a surface. (Pexels)

ANN ARBOR – A new technology developed by engineers and immunologists at the University of Michigan could be a game changer in the fight against germs.

They developed the first durable coating that can kill viruses and bacteria in minutes, but that’s not where it stops. The coating continues to kill harmful germs for six months or longer.

Formulated with polyurethane, the coating can kill SARS-CoV-2, MRSA, E. coli and several other pathogens. They put it to the test on real-world surfaces like cell phone screens, keyboards and cutting boards slathered with raw chicken and found it continued to kill 99.9% of microbes after months of use and repeated cleaning.

Professor of material science and engineering at U-M and co-corresponding author of the paper on the coating, Anish Tuteja, said it could help rid public places like hospitals and airports of harmful viruses and bacteria.

“We’ve never had a good way to keep constantly-touched surfaces like airport touch screens clean,” he said in a release. “Disinfectant cleaners can kill germs in only a minute or two but they dissipate quickly and leave surfaces vulnerable to reinfection. We do have long-lasting antibacterial surfaces based on metals like copper and zinc, but they take hours to kill bacteria. This coating offers the best of both worlds.”

The clear coating can be brushed or sprayed on and uses antimicrobial molecules from cinnamon oil and tea tree oil to quickly kill germs. Polyurethane, a sealer typically used on surfaces, makes the coating durable and long-lasting.

“The antimicrobials we tested are classified as ‘generally regarded as safe’ by the FDA, and some have even been approved as food additives,” Tuteja said in a release. “Polyurethane is a safe and very commonly used coating. But we did do toxicity testing just to be sure, and we found that our particular combination of ingredients is even safer than many of today’s antimicrobials.”

Tuteja said the product has been licensed to a spinoff company he founded through U-M Innovation Partnerships called Hygratek and said it could be on the market within a year.