Materials

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

In the future, we might clean ...
Red indicates the coverage of silver nanoparticles in a fabric in this image that's been magnified 200 times
Red indicates the coverage of silver nanoparticles in a fabric in this image that's been magnified 200 times
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Red indicates the coverage of silver nanoparticles in a fabric in this image that's been magnified 200 times
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Red indicates the coverage of silver nanoparticles in a fabric in this image that's been magnified 200 times
This image of the cotton coated with silver nanoparticles is magnified 150,000 times
2/2
This image of the cotton coated with silver nanoparticles is magnified 150,000 times

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.

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

5 comments
yawood
Maybe they can use a similar technique for wall coatings which will clean off graffiti when the sun shines. Now that would be excellent!
KateKunkel
Honestly, I think this is a stupid waste of time and resources and God only knows what effect this would have on the environment. Like the "nano-beads" in soaps that have now been outlawed, this just looks to me like something that could have many unintended consequences. And is laundry that hard these days? Throw it in a machine. If you're in an "industrialized" first world nation, laundry is not a big deal if you have money, and the only people who would be able to afford this kind of technology have enough money to buy a good washing machine. But I agree with yawood - better to spend that effort on painting walls so that graffiti fades away!
mhenriday
However much I'd like to be able to avoid placing soiled laundry and detergent into a washing machine, releasing «silver-based nanostructures» into the environment does not sound like a winning idea to me.... Henri
DavidRoxborough
If the naysayers and the “no” bodies of this world ever have their way there’s the time we begin our journey back to the stone age. All things are gravitating towards light – do you think people in the world of Star Trek dump their clothes in a washing machine? Long before they build a transporter they will build a true clean room, and you can be Amish if you like.
Timelord
Whatever happened to the concept of using the photocatalytic properties of titanium dioxide to clean surfaces? Much cheaper and more abundant than silver.