Do you wear clothes with silver ions?
Sales of antibacterial agents has increased significantly and they are used in a variety of products including workout clothes, leisure clothes, mattresses, vacuum filters, cutting boards and sheets. Even clothes for normal wear can contain agents. Clothes and textiles are impregnated with various antimicrobial substances in the manufacture. One agent that is used in clothes for this purpose is silver ions. And when the clothes are washed, the silver ions are rinsed out in lakes and rivers and harm the environment as a toxin. Other agents for antibacterial treatment are triclosan and triclocarban.
Silver ions is used as antibacterial treatment in many different areas
Silver is known to be used in jewellery and cutlery, but is now used more frequently in other areas to. In resent years the use of silver increased in areas such as: medical supply, water cooling system and for drinking water disinfection. The use also increases in consumer products as antibacterial agent in e.g. cosmetics, clothes, shoes, refrigerators, toothbrushes, plastic bottles, vacuum filters, shower curtains, kitchen surfaces and cutting boards.
What is the purpose of having antibacterial agents in clothing and goods?
The purpose with antibacterial agents is just as the name implies; they are toxic and designed to kill or prevent organisms! In clothing the target is bacteria. In the beginning antibacterial agents in clothing was mostly included in sportswear and workout clothes that was used in extreme environments where there are no or small possibility to wash the clothes or mind the personal hygiene like adventure trips or research expeditions. And the main reason was to prevent smell of sweet and body odour. For some reason the use of antibacterial agents has now increased. In goods the reason for using antibacterials are the same. The silver ions are supposed to prevent bacteria on walls in a refrigerator or on the surface of a cutting board.
What types of clothing may contain silver ions?
Silver ions or other antibacterial agents can be found in all kind of clothing like workout clothes, shoes, leisure clothes, jackets, hats, socks, sweaters, underwear and more. So now antibacterial agents like silver ions and triclosan or triclocarban has spread to clothes for more normal use, and it can also be found in clothes for small children. Antibacterial agents can be found in all types of fabrics such as synthetic materials, cotton, linen, wool and silk.
Facts about silver and the effect to organism and environment
According to Swedish Chemicals Agency, silver ions are very lethal for aquatic organisms and may cause long term damage. Several studies have shown that silver ions can damage the genetic material, reproduction and embryo development. Fish and reptiles are especially sensitive, there growth and reproduction deteriorate at such low levels as 1 micro gram silver per litre. Silver is persistent, which means that the silver that once released in to the environment will remain there. The uses of silver ions in different types of consumer products contribute to a diffuse distribution to the environment via waste water and savage sludge. The degree of silver discharged and released into the environment varies between different uses. The environmental impact of silver-treated textiles laundered regularly is probably bigger than from a refrigerator with a silver coating that is wiped rarely and with smaller amounts of water.
In a recent study made by the Swedish Chemical Agency in December 2011 was found that silver and triclosan were washed out of the clothes relatively quickly. The amount of silver and triclosan that was washed out of the garments is remarkable. This means that much of the silver in clothing are washed out directly down the drain.
Silver causes problems in water treatment plants, where it disrupts the nitrogen cycle and is also toxic to the bacteria that are used in the biologic degradation in the water treatment plants. To high concentrations of silver also make the sewage toxic.
A silver ion that is used in washer machines is nano-particles and consists of metallic silver, which is powdered. Since it is metallic and not ions, it is not as reactive. That makes nano-particles less toxic in the short term, but can give unexpected consequences in the long- term. Nano-particles is special and we don’t know its side effects yet. Until we know, we should use them with moderation!
However, it is likely that all the silver treated products effect the environment to some degree. The big question is whether the benefits from silver treated products really can offset the negative impact it could have on the environment.
In addition to the environmental aspects there are also concerns for the direct exposure to children who might suck on textiles containing antibacterial agents.
Also the "good" bacteria is effected
Another negative effect comes from wearing clothes that contains silver ions is that the antibacterial also affect those bacteria that are supposed to protect us, the natural skin bacteria. The skin bacteria will also be effected by clothes that are washed in washing machines bearing silver for antibacterial treatment in the way that the silver accumulates on your clothes and effect your natural bacterial flora.
There are suspicions that the silver may contribute to the development of resistant bacteria. In that case, we might remove one of the reminding weapons against bacteria. Expose bacteria to multitude of silver ions, and they will die, because it is toxic. At low concentrations of silver, the bacteria survives, and instead change their cell walls and cell membranes in a way that will close their walls to silver ions and also to antibiotic. You can also drink colloidal silver for nutria supplement for humans and for medical applications for dogs. Colloidal silver is a liquid solution of charged silver particles of monovalent silver. It is used in dogs for e.g. ear infections, skin conditions, parasites, yeast infections and many other diseases and ailment. Colloidal silver works by destroy the oxygen metabolism in bacteria and fungal agents and the pathogens suffocate themselves. Personally, I hope the silver do not accumulate in human bodies or in dogs, but then, if it does not accumulate, it’s spread to the environment instead, so it is bad ether way!
Unclear marking on the products
It isn’t easy to know weather you have products that contains antibacterial agents or not, because the marking of these products is unclear. Products containing silver as an antibacterial substance is not always clearly labeled. Some names may provide a clue to the silver or other antibacterial active substance used for example: "antimicrobial", ”anti-odour”, "free of bacteria", "for lasting freshness", "hygienic protection", "keeps the natural hygienic balance", "treated against odour", "prevents mis colour" etc. But there are also products that contain antibacterials that isn't labeled at all. Unfortunately, some labeled products as "environmentally friendly" are without any evidence to support such a claim. So it isn't easy to make a real choice a s a customer.
If antibacterial agents are so dangerous to the environment, why are they not forbidden or controlled better?
Even though there are several legislation about biocides like antibacterial agents most of the laws in EU put the responsibility on the producers of the chemicals or products. The EU´s chemicals legislation REACH and the Product Safety Directive has decided on a new biocidal Products Regulation which will come into force in September 2013. The legislation will tighten the requirements and it will not be permitted to release a biocidal product on the Eu market unless the ingredients are approved for what it is intended for. There is also rules in the legislation about how products with antibacterial agents must be labeled. The requirements will also apply to products that are imported to EU.
Until then, and maybe longer in other countries, we must be aware of the risks and make a decision whether or not we think the need for antibacterials in clothing are worth the risk.
I find it unbelievable that we are prepared to use everything possible just to avoid the smell of sweat without considering the consequences. Perspiration is a natural odour and although it is unwanted it must be okay during physical effort.
I have made my decision!
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Christina Lornemark (author) from Sweden on April 20, 2013:
Michael. I am sorry to disappoint you, but I have nothing to do with any "big pharma". I am just a person who like to use healthy products and do my best to stay away from anything that can harm the environment. Maybe my profession as a health and environment inspector influence me and make me more cautious and better informed.
Michael on April 15, 2013:
Wow! Yet another anti-silver campaign disguised as 'helpful' information/trivia. Big pharma hate silver products - fact. They cannot patent it, so they must attack and destroy it.
Christina Lornemark (author) from Sweden on January 23, 2012:
Charlene, Personally I wouldn't use silver ions in any way and certainly not consume it either! I would never give it to my anyone in my family or to my pets. If it doesn't accumulate within human bodies or in pets it will instead be found in the environment anyway. I really can not see why we should consume silver ions. Thanks for your comment, it is an interesting question!
Charlene on January 23, 2012:
What is your thought on this, Silver Ions can be consumed for other health benefits or so I heard. If consumed, will it still be harmfull to the enviroment?
Christina Lornemark (author) from Sweden on December 09, 2011:
John Bassett, everyone is entitle to their own opinion. And that goes for me too! In this case I can´t see any reason to be ashamed! On the contrary! I will answer you in a more polite way than your comment deserve.
My view on this is based on my knowledge and I have no financial interest what so ever in this or in any other technology. When I decide if I should use new technology I first decide if the product is necessary to me. In this case I can´t see any necessity!
But if a product is useful like many product made by man are, I always choose the products that does as little harm to the environment and everything living as possible.
Most of the things we do or invent are harmful on short or long term. It is up to every person to evaluate if the need is worth the risk or if there is another way we can get the same result with less harm.
I have made my evaluation.
John Bassett on December 08, 2011:
This article is complete rubbish. It is obviously written by some one who has a lot to loose from emerging new technologies. They should be ashamed of them selves.
Christina Lornemark (author) from Sweden on May 19, 2011:
Hi howcurecancer, nice to meet you! Thank you for your positive comment. We must share our knowledge since it is hard to keep up with it all!
Elena@LessIsHealthy on May 19, 2011:
I believe your work is amazing. I had no idea about the silver ions and the damage caused.
Christina Lornemark (author) from Sweden on January 08, 2011:
Becky Puetz, It is almost impossible to keep track on antibacterial agents or chemicals. It is so time consuming for customers. But I still try to do my best, that is all we can do! Thank you so much, for coming by, reading and for the "great hub"!
Becky from Oklahoma on January 08, 2011:
I never really thought about the toxic affect that silver can have on the environment. Thanks for the information. Great Hub.
Christina Lornemark (author) from Sweden on December 23, 2010:
Hi, Susan! I think there are many chemicals in the items we buy that we don't know about! It is hard work to keep up! I am glad you stopped by, and taking the time to leave a comment!
Susan Zutautas from Ontario, Canada on December 22, 2010:
Very interesting, I never knew about silver ions.
Christina Lornemark (author) from Sweden on September 26, 2010:
Zielarz, I am glad that you care about environment to! We all need to. And if a product is labeled with proper and understandable information that´s good! You must excuse me, but I do not want to advertise for any product on this side. The article wasn´t meant that way. Thanks for your feedback and refreshing discussion, and my best regards to you to!
Zielarz on September 23, 2010:
I totally agree with you. It took me almost two years to get all necessary documents and approvals. Plus I really do care about environment. Our products will be properly labeled with all information required by EPA. We are professionals and we deliver the highest quality products available. I do appreciate your effort and thank you for doing it, because I see there are still people who care, and that is very rare these days! I also would like you to email me, so I can keep you informed about our products, send you technical data if you require, etc.
Christina Lornemark (author) from Sweden on September 23, 2010:
Zielarz, Thank you for contributing your side of the subject. I do not take offense! One cant expect that everybody agree with you. We are all entitled to have an opinion.
And until recently, only the products excellence have been highlighted (just the good side).
I have done my research and this is my oppinion about it, but I am not going to line up my skills! The socks mentioned above is just an example. There are many other products, and some of them is not as bad as these socks. But again, that is just the point, if the products isn't properly labeled there is now way to distinguish them from each other.
Christina Lornemark (author) from Sweden on September 22, 2010:
Zielarz, I don't know about cheap Chinese clothing,but I do know that in expensive workout clothes and training clothes the amount of silver ions are much more than powder. According to a test done by an environmental management in Sweden, one sock in the test contained 1310 mg/kg before the first wash. After ten washes the same sock contained 1210 mg/kg. The loss is 100 mg/kg that is instead released to the environmental. And what is the use of that? You end up paying much money for a doubtful effect, that don't last for long and instead damage the environment. I choose not to contribute to this!
Zielarz on September 22, 2010:
John and Z, you are absolutely right! In cheap Chinese clothing the ions of silver were applied as powder, so after just first wash it was disposed. In modern technologies particles are melted into the synthetic yarn and is absolutely safe for our environment and living organisms. The thing is; it slows down growth bacterias in the fabric made from that yarn. All this frightening is just politics! If you don't believe it test and gain your own opinion on facts not bull... :)
Christina Lornemark (author) from Sweden on September 11, 2010:
Z, silver ions used for medical reasons can be ok, but personally I don't want silver in any form in my clothes or in houshold machines. And I also want clear labeling on theese products, so that I can choose! Thanks for your comments.
Z on September 10, 2010:
Another thing to point out about "silver ions" is that it is different from "Silver Nanotechnology". Understanding that these "ions" or atoms are smaller and than nanosilver is key. Silver ions are single entities of silver, while a nano-particle of silver may contain hundreds of thousands of silver ions. So in size silver ions and silver nano-particle are not even close in size.
Also, we also know that when these silver ions combine with several different particles found in nature, the ions become completely dormant.
Products made with actual silver ion technology pose no proven harm to the environment. If fact, there are more studies being done now that prove that silver ion technology is safe and useful in clothing, medical supplies, etc.
Christina Lornemark (author) from Sweden on August 31, 2010:
Of course there is other unnecessary substances that we use which harm the environment. But with silver ions, I just don't see the point of chasing bacteria were they do no harm, like in our clothes.
john on August 30, 2010:
The silver used in clothing is usually in the form of 1 silver atom attached to a very large molecule that is woven into the fabric and does not wash out any more than fibers of cotton would. This silver would have nearly zero effect on bacteria in a water source. The way the silver works in the clothing is by combining with and therefore limiting the availability of sulfur, nitrogen, and oxygen in the relatively dry (especially after you hang it up or dry off while not working hard) environment of a garment. There is so much sulfur, oxygen, and nitrogen in a water source that an entire silver garment would have no laboratory testable effect on even a small pond, it would only affect the immediate area around the silver compound at any given time and would not become a systemic antimicrobial in a water source. The most notable effect would be that bacteria wouldn't grow very well on the actual garment and it may take longer to biodegrade. If you are going to be against silver compounds being used in products, you would have a better case against plastic. Then you could put your money where your mouth is and go live naked in the woods.
Christina Lornemark (author) from Sweden on August 14, 2010:
CMHypno, Yes, we should´n hunt after bacteria in those areas were they don't do any harm. I am glad for your interest!
CMHypno from Other Side of the Sun on August 14, 2010:
Interesting Hub on the effects that silver pollution has on the environment. As a society we seem to be obsessed with killing bacteria, yet we need to be exposed to certain levels of dirt and bacteria in order to develop a healthy immune system
Christina Lornemark (author) from Sweden on August 09, 2010:
Thank´s Albert for your comment! From my knowledge it is toxic to both bacteria, virus and germs.
Albert on August 08, 2010:
The silver ion generated by the Ag, it is said to kill the bacteria, but how effect it is in killing the germs? We would not know.