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Antibacterial Tiles that Clean and Sanitize Themselves

5 November 2010 10,270 views 2 Comments

Think of public restrooms as the Arctic expedition, Sahara desert traverse, or trek through the Amazon of architecture; the public restroom is one of those extreme environments where you plan for the worst and hope for the best.  Your typical public toilet faces all possible byproducts of humankind, harsh chemical cleaners, random acts of vandalism, water, fungus, insects, rodents, and the full spectrum of microorganisms.  Ceramic materials are specified in public restrooms because smooth glazed surfaces are easier to keep clean and damaged tiles can be replaced without too much trouble, but the chemicals required to sanitize public restrooms aren’t exactly earth-friendly (and that’s assuming someone actually puts them to use).

Image courtesy babylovingmama.com

Now imagine restroom tiles that not only contend with gravity and wear and tear, but that also play an active part in improving the quality of the environment.  Stonepeak Ceramics in collaboration with Fiandre have developed Active Ceramics (antibacterial, antifungal, self-cleaning tiles that mitigate indoor air pollution).  I’m not making this up: production plants for ActiveTM Clean Air & Antibacterial Ceramic have already been completed both in Tennessee  and in Modena, Italy. 

Image courtesy www.kitchenisms.com – note: tiles by Heather Knight of Element Clay Studio

Active Clean Air & Antibacterial Ceramic™ is a material obtained using a new methodology applied to porcelain tiles, which exploits the principle of photocatalysis, activated by semiconductor titanium dioxide (TiO2).  Photocatalysis is a way of using light (usually sunlight) to drive a “useful” chemical reaction.  This could involve splitting water into oxygen and hydrogen, but it might also mean turning organic chemicals into water and carbon dioxide (Calvinus).

Image courtesy calvinus.wordpress.com

Photocatalysis is nothing more than the acceleration of oxidation processes that are already present in nature, and helps to speed up the breakdown of the polluting agents present in the environment.  According to Fiandre, the process prevents the build-up and spread of bacteria on tiles because it is “carrying out a self-cleaning action” (Source: Press Release, Fiandre).   

Image courtesy Millron

But before we all run out and retile our bathrooms, I’d like to present a caveat or two.  It should be noted that for photocatalysis to occur, “the light hitting the tiles must have enough energy to overcome barriers in the semiconductor.  For titanium dioxide, this means the light has to be particularly high in energy – it can only use ultraviolet light.  Given that this is only around 4% of natural sunlight, this is a problem if photocatalysis is to be a useful process.  This is especially the case for indoor applications where room lights tend to have negligible ultraviolet light” (Calvinus).  While I’m excited by the idea that porcelain tiles could have an impact on indoor air quality, I noticed several Barry Bonds style asterisks on the product information for Active Ceramics that stipulated the results applied only for exterior applications.  But hey, whoever said a ceiling was a requirement in a public restroom?

Even if titanium dioxide-based photocatalysis is a less robust bacteria-killing, air-filtering process than we’d like, the notion that we ought to call upon our materials to work harder and do more to reduce pollution is not without value.  And if only a small amount of self-cleaning and bacteria termination is occuring, I’d say that’s better than nothing!  What do you think?  Hit the comments.


I’m filing Antibacterial tiles in the EARTH category.


Press Release, Fiandre.  Milano.  28 September 2010.

Calvinus.  “Photocatalysis: Buy my Snake Oil” Post Tenebras Lux.  09/30/09.  Accessed 11/05/10.  URL.

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  • Daniel said:

    Even if the standard lighting within the restroom isn’t intense enough to create the reaction, wouldn’t the use of a handheld light wand or a flash of light a la \Men in Black\ be easier than scrubbing?

  • Reynobond with Ecoclean: Smog-eating Metal Cladding | ARCHITERIALS said:

    […] dioxide.  Bonding this chemical to various materials is a growing trend in green building (read about ceramic tiles coated with TiO2 here) because it’s thought to break down organic matter, SOx (sulphur oxides), and NOx (nitrogen […]

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