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Hygienic Walls

02 July 2010

Maintaining facilities from clean rooms to hospitals starts with a clean and cleanable surface. Terry Waterson explains some the the latest hygienic wall systems available for a variety of applications

AS THE ENFORCEMENT OF legislation and regulations relating to hygiene in commercial and public  buildings continues to tighten, building owners and facilities managers find themselves under ever increasing pressure to specify products which optimise hygiene, or face severe consequences if they are found to be flouting the rules.
Requirements to which all products used in the UK must comply include the Building Regulations 2000, in particular in relation to fire safety (Fire Safety Approved Document B), while individual industry sectors have their own specific standards. For example, products used in the food industry must meet the requirements for incidental food contact of both the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) and the FDA (Food and Drug Administration).
Other requirements for products such as wall coverings can include set levels of UV resistance and chemical resistance, depending on the purpose for which the area is being used. The specification process for wall coverings is usually a balancing act between selecting a product which is durable and simple to install, offering optimum resistance to dirt and bacteria build-up, while also being cost-effective and easy to clean and maintain.
Traditionally, the most commonly specified wall covering in applications where optimum hygiene levels need to be maintained has been hard vinyl sheeting. While generally offering excellent impact protection and being easy to clean, this product is usually very rigid and so does not lend itself to wall surfaces which are either uneven or curved, where it may not fit snugly to the wall leaving gaps which may harbour the build-up of bacteria. If damaged it usually means the entire sheet must be replaced causing disruption to the facility.
However, extensive investment in R&D by leading manufacturers has created a range of products which are not just quick and easy to apply, but offer optimum long-term performance with only minimal maintenance required. Many modern wall coatings now offer significant additional benefits in terms of both performance and aesthetics, with a range of colours and finish types available and flexibility and ease of application.
Perhaps the most important advantage of hygienic wall coatings is that, whatever the area to be treated, and the composition of the substrate to which they are applied, they offer a completely seamless solution, with no gaps where bacteria can build up. And in the event of minor damage to the wall, in most instances simply reapplying the product will re-create a lasting seal.
They are also quick to apply via brush, roller or airless spray, with minimal disruption to building occupants. Indeed, touch dryness is achievable within a just a few hours, or even less for some emulsion-based products. Because they create a permanent bond to the substrate, the seal is better than can be achieved by fixing a sheet or other material to the wall, where the bond will only ever be as good as the adhesive and how it is applied.
Furthermore, the need for extensive surface preparation is removed. As long as it is dry, clean and free from contamination, these products can be applied to almost any type of substrate.
Modern hygienic wall coatings are generally waterproof, odourless and able to be steamcleaned. They also offer resistance to most of the commonly used chemicals, ensuring they can cope with regular cleaning.
There are four types of wall coatings:
● Epoxy resin systems are two-component, water-based materials which offer optimum strength, alongside excellent resistance to abrasion, graffiti and chemicals. They are mainly used in kitchens and food preparation areas, school canteens, dairies, fork truck aisles and prisons.
● Polyurethane systems are similar to epoxy resin systems in appearance but are based on a different formulation. Once cured, this gives them greater elasticity, outstanding colour stability, scratch resistance and, once again, excellent graffiti resistance. As well as being suited to all of the same applications as epoxy resin systems, these products also lend themselves well to clean rooms and aggressive industrial environments.
● Acrylic systems are usually single-component, water-based systems with excellent elastomeric properties. They are best suited to walls liable to constant impact, causing damage to tiled or cementitious surfaces, with typical applications including waste management, food preparation areas, schools, hospitals, warehouses and abattoirs.
● Emulsion-bound systems are typically waterbased systems with the particles dispersed in the resin (as opposed to a solvented system where the particles are dissolved). They do not cure as such, but form a film via evaporation, consolidation or oxidation, and are ideal for domestic applications.
Ultimately, whatever system type is specified, building owners will find that wall coatings offer significant advantages over alternative wall coverings in environments where hygiene must be maintained.
● Terry Waterson is an expert in the Construction Division, 3M United Kingdom plc. For further information visit
www.3Mconstruction.co.uk.


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