Imagine never having to wash your clothes ever again — all that would be required would be to expose the garment to light, and it would clean itself.
Thanks to researchers from RMIT University, self-cleaning textiles may be part of our future. The idea has many advantages for our environment, for example, less wastage of water resources, and no pollutants entering into creek and rivers, and most importantly, into our oceans.
The researchers have developed a cheap and efficient new way to grow special nanostructures directly on textiles. The nanostructures will then, when exposed to light, degrade any organic matter.
The work now paves the way to developing nano-enhanced textiles, which by simply being worn in the sun or placed under a light bulb, can spontaneously clean itself of stains and grime. The researchers found that it took less than six minutes for some garments to clean themselves.
By dipping the textiles into a few solutions they were able to grow the nanostructures directly on the textiles. Dr. Rajesh Ramanathan, who led the research, said that the process they had developed would have a variety of applications for catalysis-based industries such as agrochemicals, pharmaceuticals, and natural products, and could be scaled up to industrial levels.
“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.
“There’s more work to do 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 researchers worked with copper and silver-based nanostructures because they are known for their ability to absorb visible light. So, when the nanostructures are subjected to light they receive an energy boost that creates “hot electrons.”
It is these “hot electrons” that release a burst of energy that then enables the nanostructures to degrade 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,” Ramanathan said.