What if washing your favorite T-shirt didn't require any washing whatsoever? Well, guess what. Science says it's possible. Chemical engineers in China say they've developed a cotton fabric that cleans itself — all it needs is a little sunlight.
According to researchers Mingce Long and Deyong Wu, who developed the material, exposing their fabric to sunlight causes it to not only clean itself of stains, it also causes it to kill off odor-causing bacteria.
The secret is a naturally occurring form of titanium called titanium dioxide (TiO2). TiO2 is often used as a dye on account of its bright white pigmentation (you'll find it in everything from paint to milk), but it's also used in industry for its photocatalytic properties. A photocatalyst is something that accelerates a chemical reaction in the presence of light. And it just so happens that when TiO2 is exposed to light, it breaks down dirt and wipes out odor-causing microbes.
The thing is, we've known about TiO2's photocatalytic properties since the sixties. We've used it to make self-cleaning tile and glass. We've even used it to make self-cleaning fabrics before; truth be told, the self-cleaning properties of Long and Wu's fabric, in and of itself, aren't terribly revolutionary. So what makes this fabric so special?
Simply put, Long and Wu's fabric is more versatile. For decades, TiO2 was only known to exhibit photocatalytic properties in the presence of ultraviolet light. But recently, it was shown that spiking TiO2 with nitrogen ions gives it photocatalytic capabilities in UV light and visible light. By coating their fabric with nano particles made from this new N-TiO2, the researchers have created a fabric that self-cleans in the presence of a very broad spectrum of light. What's more, they found that further dispersing additional silver iodide nanoparticles in the fabric accelerated the N-TiO2's stain-fighting properties.
And best of all? If you get a really serious stain on the fabric, you're always free to wash your duds the old fashioned way; the nanoparticle coating remains intact.
Now if only we had nanoparticles that could do the dishes.
The researchers' findings are published in the latest issue of Applied Materials & Interfaces
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