Are Self-Cleaning Fabrics In Our Future? New Research Says Yes

washing machine

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Almost a quarter of the water used in the average American household goes to laundry. In a household with a standard washing machine, that comes out to about 12,000 gallons of water every year, all just to get our clothes clean. Imagine then the positive impact on water consumption if the clothes that we bought were capable of cleaning themselves.

The ability for textiles to self-clean is the focus of a new study published in Advanced Materials Interfaces. The team of researchers has developed a simple way to grow nanostructures of copper and silver directly on textile surfaces, and when exposed to light, these nanostructures allow the fiber to clean without the use of detergent or a washing machine.

“These particles absorb light, which is a form of energy, which helps degrade organic matter present on the surface of the textile,” says research leader Dr Rajesh Ramanathan, a materials engineer at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia.

“A unique and important aspect is that textiles already have a 3D structure so they are great at absorbing light, which in turn speeds up the process of degrading organic matter.”

In other words, textiles that are made to self-clean when they are exposed to light, would mean doing your laundry would be as simple as taking a walk outside. The research so far is promising.


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“This is just the first step towards achieving functional fabrics in the market. We already have significant industrial interest and we will push to see this technology in the market,” says Ramanathan.

Many of us are already used to conservation tips when it comes to our laundry. We wash with cold water, we only wash full loads. But when it comes to water, the reality is that we can only conserve so much. For example, washing machines with the Energy Star rating use 10-20 gallons of water per load, compared with 30-35 gallons for a standard machine. At about 400 loads a year, the average for an American family, even at the lowest estimate, that’s 4,000 gallons of water used for washing clothes.

In addition to a decrease in water consumption, fibers with self-cleaning properties would come with other environmental benefits as well. For one, the energy required to clean them: a renewable resource. “Using sunlight to clean clothes is an eco-friendly process,” says Ramanathan. “Some of the other benefits would include saving on electricity.”

It’s difficult to project how far out we are from a self-cleaning wardrobe, but Ramanathan is hopeful. “In terms of when this technology will be available, it is difficult to say,” says Ramanathan, “but given the industrial interest we have received, I hope it will be sooner than later.”