Self-cleaning clothes are on the way thanks to Nanotechnology

Self cleaning cloth

Now how many people can actually brag about how much they love to wash their clothes? Aside the time it manages to steal from you which could be invested in something else, reaction of some bar soaps and detergents to the skin of some individuals could get pretty severe. Some people may say “there are washing machines” true, but here is something even better, how about your clothes literally cleaning themselves? aha.

Researchers are working on self-cleaning clothes, by growing nanostructures on them such that when exposed to light releases a form of energy which then degrades organic matter. Apart from Sunlight, even just a light bulb, could get rid of stains, no questions asked!.

Although still in the works, this new technology simply involves you wearing your dirty clothing out in the sun for the solar energy to catalyze a chemical reaction that will obliterate the dirt. For instance you go to picnic with your friends and your t-shirt gets stained with ketchup, it might clean off itself before you get home. The technology behind this study is that a type of fabric which is made of copper and silver nanostructure would be woven into cotton textiles and held in place by a fixative solution.

Here is a statement made by Dr Rajesh Ramanathan, one of the lead researchers at the Ian Potter NanoBioSensing Facility and NanoBiotechnology Research Lab at RMIT;

“Basically what we do is take a simple cotton textile, we have a few different new methodologies to grow nanostructures directly on them, and then once these structures are formed we can just shine light on them. Because the nanostructure is metal-based they can absorb visible light, what that does is it basically excites the metal nanoparticles which are present on the surface. And because of this energy, it’s able to degrade organic matter which is present on it so that’s how it’ll get rid of stains.”

According to Dr Ramanathan, out of the two materials, one worked very fast, with the degradation process taking between six to 10 minutes of “shining, the other one does take longer, about 30 minutes, but it’s more stable, so there is a fine balance between stability and the speed”.

Close-up of the nanostructures grown on cotton textiles by RMIT University researchers. Image magnified 150,000 times. (Supplied: RMIT University)

Close look at the nanostructures grown on cotton textiles. The image has been magnified 150,000 times. Photo Credit: RMIT University

Dr Ramanathan said for now they had only tested on stains and had not yet started to test on sweat, but they had tested some difficult organic compounds which successfully degraded in the process.

“So now what we are trying to do is use more consumer-related products, like wine stains or food stains, and try to degrade that and how quickly it can degrade, and how much material is actually required to degrade these kinds of stains,” he said.

Using this technology, some researchers from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology at the University of Melbourne have been able to clean off stains within just 6minutes, tough heavy stains may not clean off as fast though. High energy that can break down the organic molecules of the stains are released from the nanoparticles when sunlight hits it, they are microscopic and cannot been seen with the naked eyes.

The advantage of textiles is they already have a 3D structure, so they are great at absorbing light, which in turn speeds up the process of degrading organic matter. There’s more work to do before we can start throwing out our washing machines, but this advance lays a strong foundation for the future development of fully self-cleaning textiles.

Dr. Rajesh Ramanathan

The future of this innovation goes beyond dirt, the next step could be antibacterial textiles that could kill superbugs.

“In fields like biology or antibacterial textiles, one of the problems the entire world is facing is superbugs, it’s very difficult to kill them or get rid of them,” Dr Ramanathan said, “So one of the potential aspects of this material is that we have started testing it on superbugs and it’s showing amazing results.”

Getting ready to throw your washing machine out the window? not yet, Dr Ramanathan and his team still needs understanding about the regulatory authorities requirements. “We have some understanding, but we will need more understanding of the system [and] how it works, and once we have that understanding hopefully in the near future we should be able to have self-cleaning textiles, so we can throw the washing machine of the house,” he said.

What then will be of washing machines? since people will soon replace them with sunshine .

Nanotechnology is manipulation of matter on an atomic, molecular, and supramolecular scale. The earliest, widespread description of nanotechnology referred to the particular technological goal of precisely manipulating atoms and molecules for fabrication of macroscale products, also now referred to as molecular nanotechnology. A more generalized description of nanotechnology was subsequently established by the National Nanotechnology Initiative, which defines nanotechnology as the manipulation of matter with at least one dimension sized from 1 to 100 nanometers. This definition reflects the fact that quantum mechanical effects are important at this quantum-realm scale, and so the definition shifted from a particular technological goal to a research category inclusive of all types of research and technologies that deal with the special properties of matter that occur below the given size threshold.

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