Researchers are developing self-healing clothing materials that could protect workers in hazardous areas.
The self-healing properties are a result of special coating that can be applied virtually on any type of textile, making the method extremely versatile.
"We were looking for a way to make fabrics self-healing using conventional textiles,” said Melik C. Demirel, professor of engineering science and mechanics at Penn State University, the USA, a lead author of the research paper published in the latest issue of the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.
“We came up with this coating technology. We currently dip the whole garment to create the advanced material."
The coating, which is less than a micron thin, wouldn’t be noticeable on everyday clothing. It is created in multiple layers as the clothing is dipped into several types of liquids.
The coating technique is relatively cheap and simple and works in ambient conditions. That makes the method suitable for potentially scaling up for commercial use.
The researchers can incorporate specific enzymes into the coating during the manufacturing process that would help protect the garment and its wearer from various chemicals. For example, certain types of enzymes could be used to protect farmers against organophosphates, while other types would work against toxic materials used in manufacturing or against biological gases used by the military.
"If you need to use enzymes for biological or chemical effects, you can have an encapsulated enzyme with self-healing properties degrade the toxin before it reaches the skin," said Demirel.
The self-healing polymer is based on a material extracted from squid ring teeth. It’s self-healing capabilities are triggered when exposed to water. That means that simple laundering would repair micro and macro defects in the coating, making the garments rewearable and reusable.