The Risk (and Reward) of Silver-Infused Fabric
Brands have been adding silver thread to their fabrics for a while now, based on claims of its antimicrobial properties, so why isn’t silver the gold standard?
How often do you wash your sheets? What about your gym clothes? The socks you wear every week? Your underwear? Now, what if the fabric of all of those was infused with a naturally-occurring mineral that made them all less bacteria-ridden after a day of use?
Brands have been adding silver thread to their fabrics for a while now, based on claims of its antimicrobial properties, so why isn’t silver the gold standard? For all intents and purposes, silver seems to be the backbone of creating a sustainable fabric that also promotes cleanliness, but what does that mean for how it’s manufactured? And what does it really do for (and to) the person using it?
Silvon, a home goods brand, utilizes silver in their bed sheets and towels, a way to keep bacteria away from the parts of our bodies that tend to collect it. Silvon creates their textiles by infusing fibers with natural silver, thereby claiming to add a layer of antimicrobial properties.
The science supports that claim. “[Silver] would probably kill some bacteria on the sheets’ surface,” said James Ranville, a chemistry professor at the Colorado School of Mines. Ranville explained that a “tiny bit” of the silver will dissolve into silver ion, which can disrupt the function of burgeoning bacteria cells. “There’s been enough evidence to show that it does kill bacteria,” he added.
And that evidence is what is allowing Silvon, and other brands like Hygenie’s Acne-Fighting Pillow Case, Lululemon’s Silverscent fabric, Organic Basics’ SilverTech line, or Mack Weldon's Silver Boxer Briefs, to capitalize on silver infusion as an innovation to their already best-selling products. The “anti-stink” claim of silver is a major selling point for activewear and linen brands, because it’s an issue every one of their customers eventually suffers from.
While silver can pose a problem if it’s ingested in high quantities, Ranville told The Daily Beast that the health risk to humans from silver-infused fabric is negligible. “Most studies suggest human health risks are small,” he said. He did note, however, that no studies have looked at the risks of long-term exposure.
And while the silver-laden sheets might not be harmful to humans, the trace amounts of silver dislodged by washing them could leak into the water supply in a harmful way, Ranville added. But he noted that these concerns are largely speculative at the moment—so the average consumer shouldn’t lose much sleep. So, even if the appeal of the fabric is less bacteria buildup and no bad smell, you should still clean your sheets and leggings in regular intervals.
There’s still a lot to be learned about what silver can do for a consumer (and if the price tag and marketing live up to the product), but we do know that there is evidence that it does help with keeping bacteria at bay somewhat. It’s not the answer to an acne-free face or blissfully scent-less gym socks, but more and more innovation is being made to help consumers experience products in a healthier way, and that’s always a good thing.
There are two sides of the coin to silver fabric, but as long as brands utilize science-based claims in their products, there will always be more to learn about what goes into those claims. If you want to find out for yourself how silver-infused fabrics work in your everyday life, Lululemon’s Silverscent fabric, Rhone’s SilverTech fabric, or any of Organic Basics’ plethora of silver-infused items are all great places to start.