Coated fabrics, constructed from a polymer film or layers of film, have grown in popularity in healthcare settings due to their high performance and cleanability. These synthetic materials come in many forms, including PVC, polyurethane, and silicones, and are considered “soft” surfaces, compared to hard surfaces such as tiles and floors. However, healthcare facilities generally use the same cleaning and disinfection processes for both types of surfaces, which can result in the material degrading over time.

Because cleanability is such a concern, The Business and Institutional Manufacturer’s Association (BIFMA), a not-for-profit association for the commercial furniture industry, developed the Health Care Furniture Design Guidelines for Cleanability in 2017, which includes a section that specifically covers fabrics. The BIFMA resource provides methods for the testing of fabrics intended for use in healthcare environments as well as protocols for cleaning and disinfection, as recommend by the American Hospital Association.

During the 2018 Healthcare Design Expo, Nov. 10-13 in Phoenix, BIFMA representatives will lead a roundtable discussion on “Cleanability and Maintenance of Coated Fabrics in Healthcare Furniture,” on Tuesday, Nov. 13, from 1:15-2:15 p.m. Speakers include Jennifer Wammack, director of outreach at BIFMA, and Adity Phadnis, senior product compliance analyst, and Sara Balderi, principal designer at Designtex. Here, the team shares a preview of what they’ll discuss.

Healthcare Design: What are the pros and cons of using coated fabrics in healthcare settings?

Adity Phadnis: As healthcare facilities continue to expand and diversify, it opens a broader definition of what materials are applicable for these different environments. Coated materials are easy to clean and disinfect, so they’ve naturally found a place in patient-centered or critical care areas where repeated cleaning and disinfecting take place. We don’t see coated materials as a one-size-fits-all solution, but part of a suite of products that fit the needs of these different areas.

UV disinfection is becoming a popular cleaning option in healthcare settings. How does this method affect furniture materials?

Jennifer Wammack: BIFMA was part of a Steelcase study done in 2015 to test the effects of UVC (a specific ultraviolet spectrum) sanitation on material colorfastness. The test was done on-site at a hospital facility and various materials were tested, including wood, fabric, plastic, laminate, and painted MDF. The intent of the study was to evaluate fading of materials exposed to these lights, not to test the efficacy of disinfection on the materials. Some fading was generally seen for all materials, including coated fabrics, tested over the 12-month exposure period.

What are some of the concerns of healthcare specifiers in selecting coated fabrics for healthcare furniture and how they’re being addressed?

Sara Balderi: Material concerns in healthcare interiors are not exclusive: pattern, color, texture, and durability rank high. The challenge can be providing the right aesthetics with a fabric that will withstand different levels of repeated cleaning and disinfecting, while maintaining the material’s integrity and appearance. This is a topic we’ll address at HCD Expo, going in depth not only on the specification, cleaning, and maintenance of coated fabrics specifically, but also providing detailed examples from the field.

For more information on the 2018 HCD Expo, including registration and schedule details, visit