Shaping the future: Our strategy for research and innovation in humanitarian response.

A global organisation that finds solutions to complex humanitarian problems through research and innovation..
Our purpose is clear: we work in partnership with a global community of humanitarian actors, researchers and innovators to improve the quality of humanitarian action and deliver better outcomes for people affected by crises.
We empower the humanitarian community. Find out how we can support you...

What is the humanitarian need?

Access to handwashing facilities in humanitarian emergencies are limited or non-existent. As a result people affected by emergencies will not wash their hands or at least not often enough. This has the effect that diseases related to hand hygiene increases dramatically.

The present solution involves the distribution of soap (and water). This solution does not solve the problem as it requires an almost impossible logistic operation. As water, is largely a scarce resource it will be used primarily for other purposes than handwashing.

What is the innovative solution?

Supertowel is easy to distribute as the product is light weight, low volume and durable. With Supertowel, you may wash your hands anywhere, any time and with minimal water and no soap consumption.

In 2019, Real Relief was awarded a second grant from the HIF’s diffusion call to support the scaling of this intervention. As compared to the original product, this most recent version of Supertowel is significantly different. The Supertowel substrate is now forming an active part of the way the product works.

This diffusion project will make it possible for humanitarian organisations to chose Supertowel as alternative to soap, because the price will be reduced and the consistency of the antimicrobial treatment will be improved.

What were the expected outcomes?

With a first phase of funding from Elrha’s Humanitarian Innovation Fund (HIF),  Real Relief established proof that Supertowel can in fact provide users with clean hands without using soap and with a very limited water usages (50 – 200 ml per handwash) in the laboratory. In the field, they examined user acceptance and establish the required behavior change communication that is needed in support of the product.

With the second grant from HIF’s diffusion call, Real Relief will aim to provide a cheaper, better and more accessible Supertowel. The goal is a Supertowel that:

    • can be sold at USD 0.50/pcs (large quantities)
    • that has at least a bacterial log reduction of 4 originally
    • that can still be classified as antimicrobial after 100 washes
Play video

Adapting to COVID-19

The goal of this project is to determine the efficacy of handwashing options useful in low-resource settings, including the reusable Supertowel, against enveloped viruses like SARS-CoV-2 and to provide evidence to support their use in humanitarian response during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In 2020, the HIF awarded another grant to consider how the Supertowel could be used in the COVID-19 response. Existing handwashing may be difficult to access in humanitarian settings, and their efficacy against viral pathogens is poorly understood. For COVID-19 prevention, WHO recommends handwashing with soap and water for 20 seconds, and the use of an alcohol-based hand sanitizer (ABHS) as a second option. Handwashing with soap is inexpensive and widely available but is not portable and may require the use of shared stations. ABHS is a waterless option that is more portable and personal but is also more expensive and difficult to procure. Both options require use of consumable resources. A new handwashing option is the Supertowel™, a reusable towel with antimicrobial properties that was designed as an alternative handwashing product by Real Relief. To use, the towel is dipped in water and then rubbed on hands. Thus, if efficacious for handwashing, the Supertowel could provide users with a handwashing option that is portable, personal, and reusable.  

The expected outcomes are:

The project will result in information about the efficacy of realistic handwashing practices including the Supertowel and standard recommended practices for removal and inactivation of viruses similar to SARS-CoV-2. These results of laboratory testing of a range of conditions that could effect the efficacy of these methods will provide a first step to determine whether the Supertowel is a viable option for further evaluation and use in the field as part of COVID-19 response activities. 

Latest Updates

Right Price, Right Quality, Right Quantity: Scaling the Manufacture of Supertowel TM

20 Nov 2019

Real Relief share how they have achieved their aim to scale up the production of the Supertowel, setting up a supply chain that is able to manufacture Supertowel at the right price, the right quality and in sufficient quantity.


How SuperTowel can ensure ‘Clean Hands for All’

8 Oct 2019

Handwashing Day is all about promoting handwashing with soap - and Supertowel has written a blog post about how their product can ensure clean hands for all.


Using evidence to drive innovation in humanitarian handwashing interventions

21 Nov 2018

Sian White and Torben Holm Larsen write about the Supertowel field study in Ethiopia, published on Evidence Aid.


In the field with the SuperTowel

9 Nov 2018

For three weeks Real Relief have performed extended observations in 13 households.


Rethinking handwashing during food preparation

04 Oct 2018

Sian White, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, writes about the use of Supertowel during food preparation.


Hand washing the smart way

29 Jan 2018

Real Relief complete their first laboratory test.


COVID-19 Response

Oct 2020

Another grant has been awarded to examine the use of the SuperTowel against COVID-19.


How do we determine which handwashing practices to promote in humanitarian settings?

Apr 2022

Read Stanford's final blog summarising their research outcomes


Peer reviewed study - Enveloped and non-enveloped virus survival on microfiber towels

Apr 2022

The goal of this study is to provide information about the performance of the Supertowel’s antimicrobial treatment against viruses


Related Resources

Article Water, sanitation & hygiene

Supertowel as an alternative hand cleaning product for emergencies

Read the Humanitarian WASH Innovation Catalogue

Learn more about this WASH project, and many others, in our Humanitarian WASH Innovation Catalogue.

Read now

Subscribe to our newsletters....

Elrha © 2018 - 2024 Elrha is a registered charity in England and Wales (1177110). KEEP IN TOUCH Want to stay up to date with our latest updates? Sign up to our newsletters
Elrha Please upgrade your browser

You are seeing this because you are using a browser that is not supported. The Elrha website is built using modern technology and standards. We recommend upgrading your browser with one of the following to properly view our website:

Windows Mac

Please note that this is not an exhaustive list of browsers. We also do not intend to recommend a particular manufacturer's browser over another's; only to suggest upgrading to a browser version that is compliant with current standards to give you the best and most secure browsing experience.