Surface hygiene in our hospitals and care homes has come under scrutiny like never before since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
From walls and floors to doors and furnishings, the arrival of a new and highly infectious virus put an end to the belief that some areas of the hospital or care home could be ‘low risk’ for infection control, and transformed approaches to hygiene in healthcare almost overnight.
It’s already accepted that surface protection improves infection control within healthcare interiors by cladding porous surfaces such as wood, masonry and drywall in non-porous materials that are easier to keep clean. This is particularly important for high-traffic touchpoints such as walls, doors and handrails in hospitals and care homes, which can quickly become contaminated by contact with human hands.
FRP wall cladding
Across the US and Canada, a very common material used for wall protection is known as FRP – fiber reinforced polymer. This is a plastic-based material reinforced with fiberglass, which makes it almost as strong as steel, but a fraction of the weight. FRP has been used for interior wall cladding since the 1960s and remains popular because it’s inexpensive to produce, strong and lightweight, and resistant to heat and damage from chemicals.
But FRP isn’t without its drawbacks. It can be dangerous to work with because when cut, fractured or damaged it can release toxic particles or fibers into the air. For this reason, it’s also difficult to dispose of, and it’s virtually impossible to recycle.
As a result, PVCu wall cladding is becoming increasingly popular for wall cladding, particularly for healthcare environments – and we are delighted to announce that Belroc is introducing this product to our portfolio!
So what’s the deal with Hygienic PVCu?
PVCu stands for Polyvinyl Chloride. It is one of the most commonly used thermoplastic polymers in the world with a massive range of potential applications. In its pure state, PVCu is a white, brittle material but it copes well with the addition of other materials including dyes to change the colour and plasticizers to make it flexible.
Like FRP, PVCu is relatively cheap and quick to produce. It also has outstanding tensile strength and hardness, and is very resistant to environmental or chemical degradation.
Why PVCu for wall cladding?
PVCu is steadily replacing FRP as the number one choice for wall cladding for a number of key reasons.
PVCu can be infused with antimicrobial agents such as silver ions during the manufacturing phase. This creates a PVCu substrate that has a built-in, baseline level of protection against bacteria, fungi and spores that won’t wear off, even if the material gets scratched or worn as a result of intensive use. Having this antimicrobial protection built in supports overall hygiene strategy and ensures surfaces as protected ‘in between cleans’.
Unlike FRP, PVCu can be thermoformed – even on site. Thermoforming involves the use of heat to mould the PVCu cladding around the profile of the surface to be protected – for example, around the corner of a wall or window reveal. This eliminates joints, which are widely accepted as weak points in FRP cladding. The joints create cracks and crevices where bacteria can lurk even after cleaning, and are also much more prone to damage and degradation, especially in high-volume locations.
Smoothness & cleanability
The fibres in FRP cladding mean it’s very difficult to achieve a truly smooth finish on wall sheeting. Tiny pits in the surface make this material prone to accumulating dirt and germs that’s virtually impossible to remove using daily cleaning methods. Hygiene teams must expend more energy to effectively clean FRP cladding and even then, germs might persist. PVCu cladding is completely smooth and non-porous which makes it supremely easy to clean and disinfect.
PVCu cladding comes in a vast array of colours from white through to pastels, brights and even amazing effects from faux wood to captivating printed feature walls that allow you to create a ‘room with a view’ even if there are no windows!
FRP coloured cladding can fade in sunlight or suffer unsightly ‘surface chalking’. Whites often turn yellow and darker colours can fade noticeably, meaning individual sheets need to be replaced even though they are structurally sound. PVCu cladding is colourfast, resistant to weathering and ultraviolet light and is guaranteed for 20 years.
Unlike FRP, PVCu is widely and easily recyclable. PVCu can be recycled up to seven times and has a lifespan of around 140 years. Installers handling PVCu don’t need to wear specialist PPE and in the unlikely event that PVCu splits, cracks, fractures or is damaged, there is no release of toxic particles or fibers into the air.
To find out more about our range of PVCu wall protection, get in touch!