The monotonous and never-ending task of washing our clothes and linens—not to mention the vast amounts of water washing machines use—may soon be regarded as a quaint hardship of the past. Textiles that clean themselves using light may soon adorn our bodies, beds, furniture, and pets.
Researchers at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT University) in Australia have invented a visionary new process of “growing” nanoparticle technology on textiles. When exposed to a light source, these “nano-enhanced” textiles are capable of spontaneously cleaning themselves of dirt, grime, and stains.
A paper published in the “Advanced Material Interfaces” journal on March 23 describes the innovative method developed at RMIT’s Ian Potter NanoBioSensing Facility and NanoBiotechnology Research Lab in Melbourne.
Copper and silver based nanostructures are already known for their ability to absorb light. In a process called photoexcitation, nanostructures exposed to light get a surge of energy and they release “hot electrons.” These “hot electrons” start a reaction which enables the nano particles to degrade organic compounds.
The method of the RMIT scientists have developed is the real innovation, as their process of dipping textiles into various solutions “grows” the nanostructures directly onto the textiles in 30 minutes.
While Chinese scientists developed a similar process in 2012, the method took over 18 hours before organic matter degraded. Once grown, the nano-enhanced textiles developed by RMIT researchers can rid themselves of organic material—or self-clean—in as little as six minutes.
Dr Rajesh Ramanathan, a member of the team that developed the process, said “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.”
Ramanathan said the “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,” remarks Ramanathan, “but this advance lays a strong foundation for the future development of fully self-cleaning textiles.”
Stain-resistant hydrophobic shirts on the market today have been found to lose their hydrophobic properties after just one wash. While tomorrow may not be the day we can do the laundry by simply sunbathing, that day is now closer thanks to researchers at RMIT University.