Forget all the smart washing machines you’ve seen at the annual Consumer Electronics Show, there’s a fascinating new development that might let you clean your clothing using tech that’s straight out of a science fiction movie. The new technique involves wearing the dirty clothes out in the sun so that solar energy can catalyze a chemical reaction that would obliterate stains.
In other words, the next time you drop ketchup on your shirt at the game, it might clean itself off by the time you’re ready to leave the stadium. Published in Advanced Materials Interfaces, the study involves a new kind of fabric that’s made of copper and silver nanostructure woven inside cotton textiles and kept in place by a fixative solution. Researchers from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology at the University of Melbourne can clean stains within six minutes using the technology, although heavy stains might not be wiped out immediately. Tomato sauce and red wine are still be tricky to remove.
When sunlight hits the metallic nanostructure, it releases high-energy electrons that can break down the organic molecules of dirt. The image above shows a closeup of the fabric. The nanoparticles are invisible to the naked eye, and the photo above has been magnified 200 times. “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,” Dr. Rajesh Ramanathan said, according to PhysOrg.
He continued, “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.”