Because they’re known for being effective killers of bacteria, silver nanoparticles have been finding their way into a wide variety of antimicrobial materials. There are concerns, however, regarding the consequences of those nanoparticles being shed by the material and entering the environment. In particular, there are worries that through continuous low-level exposure to the nanoparticles, bacteria could develop a resistance to them. Now, researchers from Sweden’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology have announced the development of a new type of antibacterial material, that they claim won’t cause such problems.

While the exact makeup of the material is under wraps, KTH has stated that it consists of cellulose fibers embedded within an antibacterial polymer. The polymer forms a strong bond with those fibers, keeping it from detaching – even when exposed to repeated washings, the polymer reportedly doesn’t loosen or release into the water. Conceivably, pieces of the combined polymer and cellulose could break off together, although those pieces would likely be fewer in number and larger in size than the silver nanoparticles dispersed by other materials.

Additionally, because the polymer has a positive charge and bacteria are negatively-charged, bacteria are actually drawn to it. This is important, as the polymer only kills them by direct contact.

Presently, when the material is burned after use, only non-toxic nitrogen oxides are left over. The research team is still working on making it completely recyclable, however.

According to lead scientist Josefin Illergård, the material may end up being used in applications such as cleaning clothes, hospital sanitation, or even water filters.