New Nanostructure Research Could Lead the Way to Self-Cleaning Textiles

Textile covered in nanostructures (magnified x 200) // RMIT University
Textile covered in nanostructures (magnified x 200) // RMIT University / Textile covered in nanostructures (magnified x 200) // RMIT University

Imagine a future where washing your clothes is as easy as stepping out into the sunlight. That technology is a long way off, but research recently published in the journal Advanced Materials Interfaces suggests that scientists may be on the right track. A team at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) developed a way to apply nanostructures directly onto cotton textiles using a process called electroless deposition. When exposed to light, the copper and silver nanostructures clean the textile by degrading the organic matter on its fibers.

"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," study co-author Rajesh Ramanathan said in a press statement. The study [PDF] outlines the three-step process of getting the metal nanostructures onto the textile. The first involved priming the cotton fabric using an acidic solution of tin chloride. The fabric was then dipped into a palladium salt solution, which caused palladium (a rare metal) nuclei to spontaneously form on the fibers. Finally, in step three, copper and silver baths hastened the growth of photoactive metal nanostructures. The researchers say that when these nanostructures were exposed to light, organic matter on the cotton textile degraded within minutes.

The next step would be to see how the nanostructures would do against the organic matter that plagues us all in the real world "to see how quickly they can handle common stains like tomato sauce or wine," Ramanthan said. "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."