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Will we soon be wearing ‘self-cleaning’ fabrics?

It should be possible, according to scientist Dr. Rajesh Ramanathan (who works at RMIT University in Australia), to produce nano-enhanced textiles that can instantly remove stains and grime once exposed to light (such as sunlight or when held up to an artificial light source.)

The advances with the materials have come about through a new way to grow nanostructures (a nanostructure is a structure of intermediate size between microscopic and molecular structures.) These structures can degrade organic matter (that is ‘dirt’) when exposed to light. The nanostructures can be engineered so they are integral to the textiles. The nanostructures are copper and silver based, and these help with light absorption. This nanotechnology further takes advantage of the three-dimensional structure of materials, which are already effective at absorbing light.

When the nanostructures are exposed to light they receive a high level of energy, and this generates a high quantity of electrons. The electrons then release an even greater quantity of energy and this allows the nanostructures to degrade organic matter.

The tricky part is not with the way the nanostructures can wipe away grease and dirt, but with permanently binding the structures to clothing materials. After hundreds of hours of experimentation, the research group have found the right type of chemical soup into which cloth can be dipped for a few seconds. Then, after about 30 minutes, the nanostructures have formed.

In tests it only takes around six minutes for the cloth to self-clean when exposed to light. The types of stains examined included red wine and tomato ketchup.

Looking to the future, Dr. Ramanathan commented: “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.”

The research has been published in journal Advanced Materials Interfaces. The research paper is headed “Surface Plasmon Resonance: Robust Nanostructured Silver and Copper Fabrics with Localized Surface Plasmon Resonance Property for Effective Visible Light Induced Reductive Catalysis.”

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Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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