Researchers working on self-cleaning clothes that just need sunlight

22 Mar 2016

A new method of growing special nanostructures that can dissolve organic matter in sunlight in just six minutes has been developed. The method can be applied to textiles, paving the way for future self-cleaning clothes.

Aside from just being one less chore on the to-do list at home, being able to produce self-cleaning clothes en masse would have major implications from an environmental and energy perspective.

Requiring significant amounts of energy to run, while using litres of water infused with chemicals in the process, washing machines have been estimated to add nearly half a tonne of CO2 to the atmosphere every year.

With this in mind, the news that researchers at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia have found a cheap and efficient way to grow nanostructures that eat organic material on clothes when exposed to light can only be a good thing.


Cotton covered in the new nanostructures at 200-times magnification. Image via RMIT University

Cleaned in less than six minutes

Activated under either sunlight, or even a light bulb, the nanostructures applied to fabric would create ‘hot electrons’ that burn away food or other stains in a burst of energy.

To achieve its latest findings, the Australia-based research team worked with copper and silver-based nanostructures due to the fact they are renowned for their ability to absorb visible light.

Incredibly, their results show that it took less than six minutes for some of the nano-enhanced textiles to spontaneously clean themselves using material grown in less than 30 minutes.

Of course, it will be some time yet before we start seeing self-cleaning clothes in stores but the researchers say the next step will be to test these new super textiles with organic compounds that could be more relevant to consumers, like tomato sauce or wine.

The team, led by Samuel Anderson, has published its findings online in the journal Advanced Materials Interfaces.

Clothes on washing line image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic