College Kids’ Dream: Self-Cleaning Clothes


Welcome the upcoming advent of the college kid’s dream: self-cleaning clothing, as reported in Gizmag and elsewhere.

I love drying clothes outside, but it’s getting harder to do in big cities, or in condo environments where such a display of “low status” is frowned up. But drying clothes outside is healthier for you than drying them in a machine inside, due to the risk of generating harmful dryer emissions inside.

Plus, sunlight kills germs, so not only do your clothes have that fresh-air scent, but the little beasties that might still be hiding in the cloth are likely now defunct.

Thanks to research by scientists in China, we might soon not only revert to drying our clothes outside, but we might also end up cleaning our clothes by hanging them outside.

Scientists in China have reportedly successfully removed orange dye stains from cotton fabric, through the power of sunlight and a special fabric coating.

Mingce Long and Deyong Wu created the coating, which combines titanium dioxide (a good sunblock agent) and nitrogen (this element forms about 78% of Earth’s atmosphere and is the most abundant uncombined element).

When exposed to sunlight, dirt on fabric treated with the coating breaks down, and microbes die. While the coating in its basic form is effective, it was found that it does an even better job at dispersing dye coloration when silver and iodine nanoparticles are added. Additionally, it is able to remain intact and active after washing and drying.

Although light-activated self-cleaning fabrics have been created previously, all of those required concentrated ultraviolet light, as opposed to natural sunlight. Good news for consumers, who have more access to sunlight than to concentrated ultraviolet light (unless they are growers of a particular consumable).

Should the dirt-dispersing coating eventually be commercialized, however, there are doubtless many people who would want nothing to do with it. Although titanium dioxide is now an active ingredient in products such as sunscreen, cosmetics, and paint, studies have shown that it can cause genetic damage in mice and brain damage in fish. This has led to concerns over the effect that it could have on humans, and the environment.

Remember fire-retardant pajamas for little kids? Researchers found the chemicals coating the fabric in the pajamas were to blame for:

  • thyroid disruption
  • early onset of puberty
  • cognitive problems
  • delayed mental and physical development

The chemicals used to make pajamas and other consumer products flame-retardant also showed up in water, wildlife, and human breast milk.

So, perhaps we’ll tread lightly into the sunwashable fabric promise, lest we look great but cannot remember our names.

A paper on the coating was recently published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.

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