Since the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s been an immense strain and pressure placed upon swab manufacturers to meet the swell of demand.
As diagnostic testing has become more commonplace—expanding into at-home testing for COVID, flu and other illnesses—test kit producers, clinicians, and test-takers have been at the mercy of swab producers to keep pace with the production of this key diagnostic tool.
The demand for flocked swabs is not slowing down. Which leads many to wonder: how do flocked swabs compare to traditional swabs?
How do they provide superior specimen collection?
And why is the tip material so important?
This article aims to address the many benefits of using a flocked swab over traditional swabs.
It starts with the swab
It’s tough to find a medical device simpler than the classic swab. Yet, the reliance on rapid, accurate testing during the COVID pandemic has revealed just how important it is to have ready access to the highest quality swabs available.
Swabs come in a range of material types, each of which presents varying levels of specimen collection, retention, and elution. Using an unsuitable swab can lead to inaccurate testing results, driving up the frequency of test-taking and further burdening clinicians and laboratories. With superior flocked swabs, carefully engineered for accuracy, diagnostic test takers and laboratories can rest assured of accurate results.
What is a flocked swab?
A flocked swab refers to a swab that features multi-length fibers applied to an adhesive-coated surface at the end of its handle. While many manufacturers offer flocked swabs, the engineering required to achieve flocking means that not every flocked swab will necessarily ensure the same superior qualities providing high levels of testing accuracy.
Comparing flocked swabs vs traditional swabs
How do flocked swabs compare to traditional swabs? There are several reasons why flocked swabs provide superior specimen collection capabilities. Starting with the tip material.
Traditional swab fibers - including cotton, polyester, and rayon - have been used for decades to create swab tips. The fibers are compressed and shaped into the desired tip type.
Why? Because the spun fiber material entraps the specimen within the fibers, making it difficult to extract.
This is especially concerning when you’re dealing with small samples. The material could trap virtually all usable specimens, prohibiting subsequent sample analysis. The construction and shape of the swab are also important as these affect the number of specimens recovered.
The ideal collection device must have the ability to absorb and release the sample and maintain its viability. This brings us to flocked swabs.
And that brings us to the flocked swab.
Why flocked swabs provide superior specimen collection
The process of flocking involves short fibers called flock which is cut from tow. A tow is a loose rope of thin continuous strands.
The resulting flock is then dried, screened, and precisely placed around the tip of a molded handle which creates the swab's head shape and size.
The resulting swab has a soft, velvet-like tip.
The careful engineering behind flocked swabs leads to superior specimen collection and retention properties.
1. Optimum sampling
Flocked swabs feature a superior ability to collect cells and/or microorganisms at the collection site paired with a rapid release of entire cells. Especially when compared to the collection ability of cotton, polyester, rayon or nylon flocked swabs. Flocked swabs are crafted using a unique manufacturing process that allows for a much higher sample yield than typical. A variety of flocked fibers, such as the traditional nylon or the more advanced polyester flock fibers may be used in the manufacturing of these specimen collection devices
2. Enhanced sensitivity
Each fiber strand is crafted into a velvet-like brush, with hundreds of thousand contact points to support greater collection and release of specimen samples. The increased number of target cells in flocked swabs as compared to non-flocked swabs allows for greater sensitivity for rapid diagnostic tests.
3. Rapid elution
Because flocked swabs are fully integrated with the handle, with no inner fabric or other inner core to potentially absorb the specimen, these swabs collect and retain a larger amount of specimen than other swab types.
This provides for both a better sample yield and a more rapid and complete release of the sample into liquid media. This is an especially important feature if you’re dealing with small sample size and need to preserve as much of the sample as possible.
4. Multi-length flock fibers
Puritan’s proprietary multi-length flock fibers create a web-like structure specifically designed to enhance rapid absorption and quick release of biological specimens. A special manufacturing process blossoms at the end of each fiber, multiplying the surface area of the tip.
These fibers are designed to outperform traditional cotton, polyester, or rayon swabs.
5. Medical grade quality
Depending on which specific swab and provider you decide to go with, flocked swabs can also offer medical-grade quality. This makes them ideal for a variety of applications including:
- Nasopharyngeal sample collection (for COVID and flu tests)
- Specimen collection
- Rapid diagnostic testing
- Forensic evidence collection
Now that we’re familiar with some of the benefits of flocked swabs, let’s cover some details on how to use them.
Step-by-Step How to Use Flocked Swabs
Each flocked swab is different. Refer to your package and manufacturer instructions before using. These steps apply to many flocked swabs. You should review your package directions for specific steps.
Swabs should be handled by trained personnel only.
- Read your package and manufacturer instructions carefully.
- Peel open the sterile pouch.
- Remove the swab and collect the specimen. Ensure the applicator tip only touches the suspected infectious area to minimize potential contamination.
- The swab should be processed immediately according to internal laboratory instructions.
- Alternatively, the flocked swab may be placed in a sterile tube marked with patient information and transferred to the laboratory for microbiological analysis.
- Disposal of tubes and swabs must be done according to laboratory regulations for biohazard waste.
What precautions should be taken when using flocked swabs?
Reliable specimen collection relies on a multitude of factors that include:
- The collection and handling technique - improper use can damage the swab or your sample
- Specimen conditions - All clinical specimens may contain infectious microorganisms and should be handled with care. Appropriate protective equipment should be worn. Laboratory and biosafety guidelines should be followed when handling a clinical specimen.
- Timing - the best results are achieved when specimens are processed shortly after the time of collection. If delays are anticipated, swab specimens are recommended to be stored in a suitable buffered preservative until it is processed.
- Temperature - Storage temperature outside of recommended range should be avoided.
Follow your swab manufacturer’s instructions for more details, precautions, and considerations.
How Puritan’s flocked swabs stack up to competitors
In the face of growing demand for quality flocked swabs, Puritan Medical Products has taken action to adapt its approach to exceed swab demand, ensuring consumers have access to the high-quality testing materials needed to stay safe and healthy.
When selecting a flocked swab, it’s critical to ensure you’re getting the results you expect. That’s why it’s important to understand the differences between flocked technologies.
Puritan’s flocked swabs are 100% made in the USA. For U.S.-based swab purchasers, this ensures ready delivery of products exactly when you need them.
We’re known in the global diagnostic market for consistent quality, repeatable results, and dependable availability.
As always, Puritan responds to market needs with the highest quality products delivered on time. We use the finest fiber to achieve optimum sampling.