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Chemists Unveil Future Self-Cleaning Clothes

In the future, cleaning your clothes could be as easy as hanging it in sunlight.
Rodrigo Buendia
AFP/Getty Images
In the future, cleaning your clothes could be as easy as hanging it in sunlight.

A group of chemists have presented what they say is self-cleaning fabric that could one day lead to jeans, shirts and other clothing that dissolves stains and kills bacteria when exposed to sunlight.

The scientists announced their findings in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, which is peer-reviewed and published by the American Chemical Society.

Pop Science reports that they accomplished the feat by coating cotton with titanium dioxide, which oxidizes organic material:

Other researchers have incorporated titanium dioxide into clothes before, but they don't get clean unless exposed to ultraviolet light, which isn't exactly practical. Mingce Long of Shanghai Jiao Tong University and Deyong Wu of the Hubei University for Nationalities in Hubei, China, set out to create clothing with titanium dioxide coating that can self-clean using only sunlight.

To do this, they doped some TiO2 with nitrogen, which had been previously shown to work as a light-activated catalyst in visible light. They developed a new method to put this nanoparticle solution in liquid form, dunked cotton in it for one minute, then pressed the cotton, dried it and re-rinsed it. Then they added some silver iodide nanoparticles, which were intended to improve the fabric's overall light sensitivity. The researchers stained the fabric with orange dye, and then exposed it to sunlight. The cotton broke down the orange, and also sterilized bacteria.

In its press release, the American Chemical Society says the coating stays "intact after washing and drying."

Titanium Dioxide is already used on self-cleaning concrete and tiles for example and also used in sunscreen.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.