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Researchers Develop Self-Cleaning Clothes 220

Ponca City, We Love You writes "Researchers at Monash University, in Australia, have found a process to coat natural fibers such as wool, silk, and hemp that will automatically remove food, grime, and even red-wine stains by coating their fibers with titanium dioxide nanocrystals, which break down food and dirt in sunlight. Titanium dioxide is a strong photocatalyst and in the presence of ultraviolet light and water vapor, it forms hydroxyl radicals, which oxidize, or decompose, organic matter. "These nanocrystals cannot decompose wool and are harmless to skin," says organic chemist and nanomaterials researcher Walid Daoud. Titanium dioxide can also destroy pathogens such as bacteria in the presence of sunlight by breaking down the cell walls of the microorganisms making self-cleaning fabrics especially useful in hospitals and other medical settings."
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Researchers Develop Self-Cleaning Clothes

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  • Sunlight? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Harmonious Botch ( 921977 ) * on Monday February 25, 2008 @01:25PM (#22547544) Homepage Journal

    This is some new kind of LED, right?

    "...natural fibers such as wool, silk, and hemp..." So what if I'm sitting real close to someone who is wearing spandex or nylon or some other artificial fabric? Does it eat through those?

  • by BadAnalogyGuy ( 945258 ) <> on Monday February 25, 2008 @01:26PM (#22547546)
    Obviously this would be the perfect clothing for many slashbots. However its requirement of sunlight to activate the self-cleaning enzymes makes it impractical for those basement dwellers among you.

    Can they modify the fabric to react to the glow of a CRT?
  • by Gr33nNight ( 679837 ) on Monday February 25, 2008 @01:27PM (#22547554)
    I guess we'll be seeing many more geeks walking around in their underwear.
  • What about those of us who sit behind a computer in a basement all day letting our pizza spill on to our shirts?
    • Some blacklights in our basement should give the same effect - and also give us an excuse to put up those velvet posters we always secretly admired.
    • What about those of us who sit behind a computer in a basement all day letting our pizza spill on to our shirts?

      Well, you're already not interested in the state of your laundry, so it's not like it's any worse than what you have now. :-P

  • by wrfelts ( 950027 ) on Monday February 25, 2008 @01:27PM (#22547564) wakes up to find a pile of goo wearing his wife's very clean titanium dioxide pajamas...
    • by Z34107 ( 925136 )

      The article states that the Titanium Dioxide used is the same compound used in sun screen and cosmetics, so it's probably not going to dissolve anyone's wife anytime soon ^.^

      They've used this in self-cleaning glass; only problem was they couldn't get it to "stick" to clothing fabric in the same way.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Dogtanian ( 588974 )

        The article states that the Titanium Dioxide used is the same compound used in sun screen and cosmetics, so it's probably not going to dissolve anyone's wife anytime soon ^.^

        That's what *they* want you to believe. In truth, anyone who's worn sunscreen for any length of time has likely been gradually replaced atom-by-atom without ever noticing, until there's nothing of the original human being left. Sure, they look like hot bikini babes, but they're actually aliens from the planet Ambre Solaire.

        • by Z34107 ( 925136 )

          It's a good thing women only exist on the internet then, unless I've been grossly misinformed...

  • I look forward to the development of advanced greenhouse-hospitals with remarkable amounts of sunlight.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      That was my first thought, too. Sunlight is only allowed in recovery rooms at any of the hospitals I've been in, and MAYBE some lobbies.

      Still, fluorescent tubes not only cause me to have seizures, but they also produce huge amounts of ultraviolet light. Will they still work? (No, the humor is not lost on me that the lighting in hospitals causes me to have seizures... )
      • What country do you live in?

        I ask because the lack of sunlight in hospitals is a big issue here in the UK, where a lot of our hospitals are in very old buildings that just don't get enough light.

        That's changing now, new wings tend to have lots of light.

        Not quite enough sunlight to help with asepsis alas, but that's more because of things like cleaners carrying mops from ward to ward then anything else.
        • Canada. Our hospitals are mostly built in the 70's around here, but they're building like nuclear fallout shelters. The fluorescent lights are still "natural light" fluorescents, but they still suck.
      • Still, fluorescent tubes not only cause me to have seizures, but they also produce huge amounts of ultraviolet light.

        They do? I mean, I know they do internally, but it should all be absorbed by the inside coating and the glass of the tube. That's why the kind that are used for sterilization are made from quartz - it doesn't block UVC like glass does.
  • by brian0918 ( 638904 ) <> on Monday February 25, 2008 @01:31PM (#22547630)
    It's interesting that a compound normally used in dyes [] is now being use to prevent stains.
    • Part of dying is to break down or "open up" the proteins or whatever in the fibres so that they can take up the dyes. If you don't do this the dye just washes off. This same process will also break down some other materials, including many stains, allowing them to be washed away.

      Protein based fibres (wool, feathers, silk etc) require different treatment than plant based fibres(cotton, hemp etc) because there's a need to "open up" different types of cells.

      For protein based dying (in a home/craft situation) i

  • Two questions (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Valdrax ( 32670 ) on Monday February 25, 2008 @01:32PM (#22547644)
    1) Does this process bleach the fabric? (i.e. Does this work for colors other than white?)
    2) What does this do to the longevity of the fibers in the fabric? Does constant exposure to hydroxyl ions damage the cellulose in them?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      1) Ideally no. If the coating is thick enough, light should not be able to get through and start the degradation of the fabric/dyes. This assumes that all fibers are similarly (and thus perfectly) coated. I could see cheaper coating processes leading to quicker bleaching. 2) This is similar to your first question. Only light + catalyst = degradation, so as long as the coating is uniform and thick enough to keep light from penetrating too far, it should be safe.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by mdielmann ( 514750 )

        If the coating is thick enough, light should not be able to get through and start the degradation of the fabric/dyes.
        Um, if the light can't get through, how can the dye reflect any light? And if the dye is on the surface of the nanocrystal coating, how is this going to stop the dye from being exposed to hydroxyl ions?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 25, 2008 @01:32PM (#22547648)
    I guess the old "Spill something on her dress and act concerned by patting her chest with a napkin" plan just flew out the window. Now I gotta use other plans to act innocent while copping a feel.

    I guess I could try the "Make a sudden stop at a light right before it turns red and stick my arm out to make sure she doesn't fly forward" plan.
    • Well, we have these things called 'seatbelts' over here in the UK, you'd better hope they don't introduce them in the US or you're clearly never going to get any. Why you don't just make careful advances in snuggle time eludes me, though.. :p
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by TooMuchToDo ( 882796 )
      I like to go with the "ride in front of me on my motorcycle facing me, holding on, because I don't have a passenger backrest."
  • Let us pool in money and buy one for our beloved RMS ! ;)
  • OK. So it's safe on the skin, but what's the chance of inhaling or swallowing this stuff? What are the effects if it's taken internally?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Titanium dioxide is non-toxic. You'll just poop it out.
    • Ever brushed your teeth? Maybe with white toothpaste? You worried about that too?
    • According to wikipedia, Titanium Dioxide is used in many things, including as a food dye and in many toothpastes. So yeah, odds are you already swallow a good amount of the stuff as is.
    • OK. So it's safe on the skin
      Actually the jury's still out on that. I've read studies (can't remember the reference off the top of my head, I can look it up if anyone cares) that suggest the presence of titanium dioxide in sunscreens increases the amount of free radicals in the skin and may contribute to an increased risk of cancer. It's still miles safer than PABA in sunscreens, but it may not be 100% safe.
  • by G4from128k ( 686170 ) on Monday February 25, 2008 @01:36PM (#22547710)
    What stops the hydroxyl radicals produced by Ti02 from oxidizing the organic material in the cotton, silk, or hemp fibers?

    Sounds like a great way to ensure no one wears last year's fashions.
    • That was my question too. What's the difference between skin, wool, cotton and dirt or bacteria? You can just imagine the warning tags. "A small percentage of wearers find their outer dermis eaten off by this cloth. If you experience itching, discomfort or excessive bleeding out of your pores, please discontinue use and see a doctor."
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by adamchou ( 993073 )
      More important than that, what happens to my skin when it gets oxidized?
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by evanbd ( 210358 )

      Cotton is basically cellulose, which is chemically highly inert (it's a strong structure, and it arranges itself with all the chemically interesting bits on the inside of a spiral, so the attacking chemicals have trouble getting to them). Hydroxyl radicals aren't going to be enough to attack it agressively (though they might very slowly). This will be chemically similar to (not the same as) peroxide based bleaches, which are relatively mild (especially compared to chlorine bleach).

      I don't know specifica

      • Off-topic question, but you seem to know your stuff, so I'll ask. If cotton is basically cellulose, could I recycle old clothing into ethanol once cellulosic ethanol production is possible on a reasonable scale?
        • by evanbd ( 210358 )
          I would assume so. There's some chance the process wouldn't like dyes and such, but I imagine that could be solved (and my guess would be it wouldn't care).
  • Does this also remove blood stains?

    If so, Dexter [] would love it...
  • so that's how the clothes in that movie stayed so clean despite the surrounding filth...

    there's proof positive this will work.

    check it out in the time musheen!
  • Sure, they say that Titanium Dioxide, that uber dangerous chemical also found in white paint, is safe to wear now, but, what about 20 years ago? Back in my day, scientists said that lead was safe for gasoline, and that was wrong. Then they said that the pill was safe, until fish started popping up without sex organs? They used to have this four food groups and said I needed to eat a lot of peanut butter and cheese, and I did, and now I need a new thing to get my cholesterol back down, and I can only eat
  • Who immediate thought of this [] when they saw the headline?
    • I did as well. Didn't know it was out on DVD now, so I thank you kindly, sir.

      Off to Amazon I go...
    • Actually, my first thought was a Heinlein reference. If memory serves, it was in Time Enough For Love where Lazarus/Woodrow/Theodore was given a a set of coveralls to use as period garb for pre-WWI America until he can acquire authentic clothing from that time frame. It was described as "Hercules cloth, won't get dirty and can't wear out" or words to that effect.

      It seems the term "Hercules Cloth" has been adopted by contemporary fabric makers, I've found a reference that lists Hercules as a tough, two-ply

  • and die of some horrible lung disease.

    Is there something terribly wrong with simply getting up off your ass and cleaning your clothes once in a while?


    • Is there something terribly wrong with simply getting up off your ass and cleaning your clothes once in a while?
      Yes, but how much time/money/energy/chemicals are needed for that ordinary cleaning?

      Anyway, I see it more as a good alternative to dry cleaning than to regular washing.
  • Headlines (Score:5, Informative)

    by pete-classic ( 75983 ) <> on Monday February 25, 2008 @01:51PM (#22547966) Homepage Journal
    Feb. '08 - Researchers Develop Self-Cleaning Clothes
    June '09 - Startup "Washtec" Sells First Self-Cleaning Clothes
    Oct. '09 - Old Navy, Nike, UnderArmour License Self-Cleaning Fabric Technology
    Nov. '12 - Self-Cleaning Apparel Set to Overtake Ordinary Clothing Sales this Holiday
    July '13 - Self-Cleaning Clothes Linked to Cancer, Impotence, Schizophrenia
    Aug. '13 - Self-Cleaning Clothes Health Study Flawed
    Nov. '13 - Self-Cleaning Clothes: The Killer in your Closet
    Nov. '13 - SCCs do Pose Some Risk, Scientists Say
    Dec. '13 - SCC Risks Exaggerated, Study Finds
    Feb. '14 - Old Navy pulls SCCs from Shelves
    June '14 - Newer, Safer, SCC Technology Developed
  • by roman_mir ( 125474 ) on Monday February 25, 2008 @01:54PM (#22548008) Homepage Journal
    If the clothing made from this fabric was smart enough, it would eventually figure out that the best way to get rid of the 'dirt' problem is to eliminate the one, who is wearing the clothing in question. While the researchers say that these nanocrystals cannot harm the skin, how long before it gains this ability, by say becoming exposed to some levels of X-Rays higher than normal? It wouldn't make long before a movie about the hungry killer suit is released. Also judging from the kind of garbage that get the Oscar nowadays [], this new movie is going to get fasttracked in that department as well.
    • by kat_skan ( 5219 )

      Oh ho! What makes you so sure that the fabric hasn't already advanced far enough to eat the entire research team, and is not issuing its own press releases advertising how miraculously wonderful and, of course, completely safe it is?

  • which oxidize, or decompose, organic matter
    How does it know the difference between a piece of pork and your skin?
  • I wouldn't have had to hammer my socks until the were bendable again :)
  • That's pretty awesome. Less water usage. Less work for me. It's win/ win. The water savings along could be incredible.
  • Making something self-cleaning by coating it with titanium dioxide seams to pop up every couple of years. There was an effort to make self cleaning kitchen tiles and self cleaning house siding.

    These wonderful technologies run into two problems.

    One, they only come in one color-- white.

    Two, they only work in UV light. So the shady bits can get very dirty-- dirty enough to block the UV and halt the self cleaning trick.

    What's the point of having a self cleaning garmet if you have to tumble it for hours under UV
  • Pizza goes on shirt. Sunlight activates catalyst. Catalyst causes a chemical reaction that decomposes the pizza into ... what? Organic gases?

    What does this smell like while operating?

  • What, this stuff could have an adverse effect on human skin? Impossible. Since when have we ever rushed a poorly understood product to market with no consideration of future consequences?
  • We can be done with this silly laundry nonsense and get on with the business of civilization!

    This sounds like the vacuum cleaner "revolution" - you spend the same amount of time cleaning your house in the year 2000 as you did in 1900.
    You simply go over the entire floor with a vacuum cleaner instead of a broom.
    And now in 2007 we spend the same time following the Roomba, putting missed pieces of dirt back in its path.

    Unless people were watching the washer and dryer as if they were TVs, this may not be any gre
  • by ajm ( 9538 ) on Monday February 25, 2008 @02:33PM (#22548646)
    Ealing comedy (think Lavender Hill Mob, Lady Killers, Passport to Pimlico) from 1951. []
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by fm6 ( 162816 )
      Great movie, though not as good as the Lavender Hill Mob. What's particularly interesting is that the this fictional fabric had exactly the same issues (durability, colors other than white) that are being raised with respect to this new fabric!

      Since this is Slashdot, it's worth mentioning that the star of these movies was Obi-Wan himself, Alec Guinness. Oddly enough, Sir Alec hated them, not so much on artistic grounds but because he felt that Ealing Studios treated its actors poorly. He was particularly pi
  • Titanium dioxide can produce free radicals when it is decomposed in UV light. They can't penetrate your epidermis, but if there is broken skin you could be in a spot of bother as free radicals have quite an unpleasant effect on DNA.
  • [] I actually have some of these as they were on sale at one of those sites that sells only CFLs and after rebate, etc, they were down to a price I thought was worth a try. In doing some research on whether to try them or not I did stumble upon one Japaneese study that basically took common smelling gases and stuck them in a contained area with one of these bulbs in them. Supposedly they did break down the gases into non ordorous compounds. The price was close enough that I gave them a
  • .. it needs, umm, hang on, what was it again, ah, "sunlight". Is that the stuff that drives solar panels? :-)

  • I'm organic. You think I am going to trust some crystal to know the difference between Thanksgiving dinner and my family jewels?
  • Life imitates art (Score:3, Informative)

    by ardent99 ( 1087547 ) on Monday February 25, 2008 @03:57PM (#22549752)
    There was a great movie about this subject made in the 50's called "The Man in the White Suit", with Alec Guinness. In the movie, a scientist invents a fabric that repels dirt and doesn't wear out. After initially being heralded as a hero, all the vested interests (pun unintended) in the world's textile and clothing industries think it will mean the end for them, and they want him dead. The movie might take on renewed relevance... [] []
  • Already done (Score:3, Informative)

    by whoever57 ( 658626 ) on Monday February 25, 2008 @05:25PM (#22550854) Journal
    It was done in 1951 [].
    What's that you say, it was only a story? Perhaps it was and perhaps it predicted the outcome (not good for the inventor).

1 1 was a race-horse, 2 2 was 1 2. When 1 1 1 1 race, 2 2 1 1 2.