More bad news for the Maytag repairman and dry cleaners everywhere: Self-cleaning clothing is no more than a few years away, according to Cosmopolitan magazine’s Cosmos Online. Nanocrystals of anatase titanium dioxide bonded to fibers such as silk and wool are capable of using light to break down dirt, stains and [potentially] micro-organisms. Chemists Walid Daoud and John Xin of Hong Kong Polytechnic University stained treated wool with red wine and exposed the fabric to simulated sunlight for 20 hours, almost completely eradicating the stain. “The ultimate consequence of developing these self-cleaning fabrics is that we can really limit our use of things like chemicals, energy and water,” Daoud says.
Not so fast, says Keith Millington, researcher at Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation Textile and Fibre Technology Unit. “There are a whole lot of challenges that need to be overcome to prove the viability of any self-cleaning treatment.” One issue is the use of dimethyformamide, a potentially cancer-causing chemical, in the process of developing and attaching the nanocrystals. However, if the technology moves into commercial applications, it could be particularly useful for military personnel or outdoors enthusiasts who visit locations miles away from the nearest laundromat or dry cleaner.