No More Washing. Shine Some Light On Self-Cleaning Textiles

Mano ten Napel | @Mano10Napel

As technology evolves, the importance of it evolving grows by the day, which means that the choices that we have to approach when solving everyday problems are growing in numbers with it. Within the context of fashion and technology, the necessity of evolvement of #theMerge is huge, especially when one thinks about the environment. Therefore it was great to learn about startups like Bionic Yarn who are aiming to add the plastic waste from our oceans and intertwining it in a way that it can be used in the yarn that manufacturers use to produce our denim. Then there is Dropel fabrics who infuse cotton fibres in their hydrophobic textiles with a patented nanotechnology process, which results in the clothes being repellent to stains so that spilled liquids roll right off the fabric.

Cotton textile covered with nanostructures invisible to the naked eye
Cotton textile covered with nanostructures invisible to the naked eye. Image magnified 200 times.

Now, instead of preventing your clothes getting stained there is a team from Australia’s RMIT University who are working on inventing an inexpensive and efficient way to make everyday clothes clean themselves. They tried doing so and last week they had their findings published in the journal Advanced Materials Interfaces.

ALSO READ: When Fashion And LifeStyle Textiles Are Getting Smart

The way the team did this was by finding an easy and scalable way to grow copper and silver-based (which is known for its ability to absorb visible light) nanostructure into textile. Then for the garments to clean itself, the textile first had to be exposed to light or even a light bulb which made the active metal nanostructure degrade organic material. So the big breakthrough lies in the way the team was able to make this process one that can be easily adapted by the industry. This could be a big thing in the fashion industry, where inventing the next big thing is only half the job. So to be able to invent something that businesses can implement into their enterprise resource planning is important.

The red color indicates the presence of silver nanoparticles
The red color indicates the presence of silver nanoparticles

To understand it further, I have included an abstract of Robust Nanostructured Silver and Copper Fabrics with Localized Surface Plasmon Resonance Property for Effective Visible Light Induced Reductive Catalysis

Inspired by high porosity, absorbency, wettability, and hierarchical ordering on the micrometer and nanometer scale of cotton fabrics, a facile strategy is developed to coat visible light active metal nanostructures of copper and silver on cotton fabric substrates. The fabrication of nanostructured Ag and Cu onto interwoven threads of a cotton fabric by electroless deposition creates metal nanostructures that show a localized surface plasmon resonance (LSPR) effect. The micro/nanoscale hierarchical ordering of the cotton fabrics allows access to catalytically active sites to participate in heterogeneous catalysis with high efficiency. The ability of metals to absorb visible light through LSPR further enhances the catalytic reaction rates under photoexcitation conditions. Understanding the modes of electron transfer during visible light illumination in Ag@Cotton and Cu@Cotton through electrochemical measurements provides mechanistic evidence on the influence of light in promoting electron transfer during heterogeneous catalysis for the first time. The outcomes presented in this work will be helpful in designing new multifunctional fabrics with the ability to absorb visible light and thereby enhance light-activated catalytic processes. (Advanced Materials Interfaces- Volume 3, Issue 6, March 23, 2016)

RMIT University


On the process, study author Rajesh Ramanathan stated: “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. Our next step will be to test our nano-enhanced textiles with organic compounds that could be more relevant to consumers, to see how quickly they can handle common stains 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”.

So to make the nanostructure viable on a larger scale the team had to grow the it onto interwoven threads of a cotton fabric, finding a way to make it so it would be permanently attached to the fibre. In their efforts they decided that dipping the nanostructures into special solutions for 30 minutes, so that a stable nanostructure could be achieved. Subsequently, when this material was then exposed to light, within 6 minutes it would start cleaning itself. It is these kind of developments that #TheMerge of Fashion with Tech is lacking. This is the type of advancement that simplifies manufacturing processes, so that it only gets easier and more meaningful for the enterprise to give us the added value that is waiting around the corner.

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