Nanostructures that degrade organic matter when exposed to light have been grown directly on textiles allowing for clothes that do not need to be washed.
The technology paves the way towards nano-enhanced textiles that can spontaneously clean themselves of stains and grime simply by being put under a light bulb or worn out in the sun.
The process was developed by researchers at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, who say it could easily be scaled up to industrial levels.
Textiles work well with the nanostructures because they are inherently composed of 3D structures which make them good light absorbers, speeding up the process of organic matter degradation.
When the nanostructures, which are mostly made of copper and silver, are exposed to light they receive an energy boost that creates ‘hot electrons’.
These hot electrons release a burst of energy that enables the nanostructures to degrade organic matter.
The challenge for researchers has been to bring the concept out of the lab by working out how to build these nanostructures on an industrial scale and permanently attach them to textiles.
The team’s solution was to grow the nanostructures directly onto the textiles by dipping them into a few solutions, resulting in the development of stable nanostructures within 30 minutes.
When exposed to light, it took less than six minutes for some of the nano-enhanced textiles to spontaneously clean themselves.
"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," said Dr Rajesh Ramanathan who worked on the project.
"Our next step will be to test our nano-enhanced textiles with organic compounds that could be more relevant to consumers, to see how quickly they can handle common stains like tomato sauce or wine."
British researchers recently unveiled self-cleaning smart glass that can limit glare by utilising structures similar to those which are found in the eyes of moths.