October 14 2017 by Ryan Deschner
Imagine that coffee or food stain you just accidentally spilled your dress shirt or blouse before an interview or while at lunch before an important meeting. Instead of requiring an impromptu wardrobe change or carrying on with an embarrassing blemish for the rest of the day, new nano-enabled clothing could make it possible to clean your clothing by simply standing in the sun for a moment!
Over the last few decades textile manufacturers have made significant advancements in the clothing that we wear. From the novelty Hypercolor T-shirts of the 1990’s to functional sweat-wicking jogging pants, “smart garments” are now commonplace items and useful products. Recently, researchers at The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia have pushed the envelope even further by developing fabrics capable of cleaning themselves.
Your Favorite Shirt: Now with the Power of Nanoparticles!
By integrating silver and copper nanostructures into common textiles such as cotton, garments can be transformed into self-cleaning “wearable tech” which can shed stains and grime without machine washing or dry cleaning. These smart fabrics utilize visible light activation of the metallic nanostructures to degrade organic matter such as food in a catalytic process. This process makes use of a phenomena common to metallic nanoparticles called Surface Plasmon Resonance (SPR) whereby light excitation causes resonant charge oscillations in the electrons of the nanostructures.
Scanning Electron Micrograph (SEM) Image of Nanostructured Copper-laden Cotton
These nano-enabled fabrics are produced by dipping them into a series of nanoparticle solutions and drying them; an electroless process which takes less than thirty minutes. Initial testing of these fabrics has resulted in visible light-initiated self-cleaning in less than six minutes. In addition, the researchers have demonstrated low-cost and scalable production of the nanostructure-laden fabrics is achievable.
This technology has the potential to produce new lines of highly functional garments which can prevent permanent staining and aggressive washing to remove detritus. Imagine spilling soup on your shirt at a business lunch, and instead of changing or going back to work with an unsightly stain you could simply stand outside in the sun for a few minutes to clean your shirt!
In addition to the practical advantages of quickly cleaning soiled clothing, this technology could have a beneficial impact on the environment. Removing or reducing the need for expensive dry cleaning or aggressive machine washing would save water and energy, while at the same time significantly extending the wearable life of your garment.
While feasibility of the light-activated catalysis and SPR has been shown by the researchers, ensuring that the nanostructures remain bound to the garments after repeated washing will likely be a critical next objective in the product development cycle before these clothes are actually ready to hit shelves and racks near you.
More Information: Anderson, Samuel R., et al. "Robust nanostructured silver and copper fabrics with localized surface plasmon resonance property for effective visible light induced reductive catalysis." Advanced Materials Interfaces 3.6 (2016).