24 March 2016

In the future, we might clean our clothes using nothing but light

silver nanoparticles in fabric

Red indicates the coverage of silver nanoparticles in a fabric in this image that's been magnified 200 times (Credit: RMIT University).

Even though we no longer have to beat our clothes on rocks to get them clean, laundry is still a pretty tedious chore. If researchers at Australia's Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) have their way though, the amount of time we spend measuring capfuls of liquid, scraping out the lint filter and refolding our duds may soon get slashed thanks to a new coating that cleans fabrics whenever they're exposed to light.

Imagine being able to simply hang your shirt in a lit closet to get it clean. Or taking a walk on a sunny day and arriving home with a perfectly clean shirt. Both things might be possible with RMIT's new technology that grows copper and silver-based nanostructures on fabrics.

When the tiny metallic constructs are exposed to light either from a manmade or natural source they create "hot electrons" that in turn release energy bursts that dissolve organic matter. So that grass stain you got from playing football would be blasted away, but the ink from changing the cartridges in your printer might not.

To create the self-cleaning fabric, the MIT team dipped the cloth into various solutions which caused the nanostructures to grow on the textile. It took about 30 minutes for the nanostructures to form. After that, they deliberately stained the fabric and witnessed the cleaning action take place in as little as six minutes.

The team says the technique is cheap and efficient and can easily be scaled up to an industrial scale, and it is these attributes that give it advantages over similar self-cleaning fabric technologies.

cotton coated with silver nanoparticles
This image of the cotton coated with silver nanoparticles is magnified 150,000 times

Although you won't be seeing self-cleaning clothes hitting the rack in your local shops just yet, RMIT researcher Dr Rajesh Ramanathan said that the next step for he and his team is to test the fabrics with staining agents relevant to consumers, like tomato sauce or wine.

"There's more work to do to 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," he said.

Source: RMIT University


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