Wool is considered to possibly exhibit antibacterial properties due to the ability of wool clothing to reduce the build-up of odor, which arises from the microbial activity of skin microbiota. Indeed, when tested with a widely used agar diffusion plate test method, even wool or other textiles not treated with any antimicrobial agent can be interpreted to show certain antibacterial effects due to the lack of growth under the specimen, as instructed in ISO 20645:2004 standard. Therefore, we analyzed in detail what happens to bacterial cells in contact with untreated wool and cotton fabric placed on inoculated agar plates by counting viable cells attached to the specimens after 1 and 24 h of contact. All wool and several cotton samples showed no growth under the specimen. Nevertheless, it was shown without a doubt that neither textile material kills bacteria or inhibits cell multiplication. A reasonable explanation is that bacterial cells firmly attach to wool fibers forming a biofilm during multiplication. When the specimen was lifted off the nutrient agar surface, the cells in the form of biofilm remained attached to the wool fibers, removing the biomass and resulting in a clear, no growth zone underneath it. By imaging the textile specimens with X-ray microtomography, we concluded that the degree of attachment could be dependent on surface topography. The results indicate that certain textiles, in this case, wool, could exhibit antibacterial properties by removing excess bacteria that grow on the textile/skin interface when taken off the body.
Keywords: ISO standards; agar diffusion; antimicrobial; cotton; textile.