Nature has a unique cleaning/washing process for almost all its belongings except human beings. Human is the filthiest being on the mother planet. Further, human is on a spree to spoil the environment but is busy in the development of modern and comfortable technologies for cleaning/washing himself as well as his belongings. Modern human is very conscious about the cleanliness of his clothes and is wasting lots of water, energy and time and generating water pollution where as on the other side, nature is continuing to keep it self clean without such side effects. Scientists are trying to understand natures this unique feet and to replicate the same for the use of human. They are working to develop self cleaning clothes by imitating the process.
Cloth cleaning is a tedious job for every one. Though it is simplified to a great extent with the use of washing machines but still people want that they should wear clothes which clean themselves in natural way and get freedom from washing. Not only lazy people would love self-cleaning clothes, but the time and frustration of not having to wash so much would be nothing short of fantastic. With the development in science and technology with close understanding of natural phenomenon, self-cleaning clothes are no more the things of dreams. One might add if such a technology could also be applied to things other than clothes - never having to wash a car, or boat, or floors again would be nice. Two approaches to produce self cleaning clothes under investigation are:
a) The use of a newly-created chemical coating allows balls of water to self-clean the surfaces of clothes.
b) The outer water-repelling layer sits atop silver nanoparticles and a reactive polymer.
The idea of using titanium dioxide to make self-cleaning surfaces is not new. Titanium dioxide, which is used in sunscreens, toothpaste, and paint, is a strong photocatalyst: in the presence of ultraviolet light and water vapor, it forms hydroxyl radicals, which oxidize, or decompose, organic matter. Researchers are developing a process that could lead to self-cleaning wool sweaters and silk ties. Wool fibers have to be chemically modified to receive a stable coating of titanium dioxide nanocrystals, which break down organic matter (contained in stains) in presence of sunlight. The researchers chemically modify the surface of wool fibers, adding chemical groups called carboxylic groups, which strongly attract titanium dioxide. Then they dip the fibers in a titanium dioxide nanocrystal solution. Titanium dioxide can also destroy pathogens such as bacteria in the presence of sunlight by breaking down the cell walls of the microorganisms. This should make self-cleaning fabrics especially useful in hospitals and other medical settings.
In other technique, self cleaning materials are based on nano crystals making the surface oil or water repellant by controlling wettability and surface interaction. This is a concept that is completely different from that of the titanium dioxide coating. Researchers have created a coating that can be integrated into virtually any fabric, allowing dirt to be released when water is applied. The patented coating allows clothing to be cleaned simply by spraying with water or wiping with a damp cloth and reduces the number of cleanings required. The coating is one of the latest applications of nanoscience which has been used for everything from creating stain- and wrinkle-resistant clothing to increasing computer memory. The coating -- a polymer film mixed with silver nanoparticles is infused into fabric, creating a series of microscopic bumps that cause dirt and other substances to bounce off when water is applied. The film won't make clothing look glossy because the particles are too tiny to be seen and, theoretically, have no color because they are smaller than the wavelength of light. These nanocrystals cannot decompose wool and are harmless to skin and moreover, the coating does not change the look and feel of the fabric. Besides clothing, the film also could be used on lawn furniture, convertible car tops and outdoor campers. Further, we can imagine a self-cleaning bathroom with no more drudgery of scrubbing the wall, floor and the shower curtain. Tiles clean themselves and keep the toilet clean.
Each of these techniques to make self-cleaning materials has its own limitations. Superhydrophobic materials, which repel water, are typically good at removing dirt particles but don't deal with oils well. Materials that repel oil might not work with certain types of oil. The titanium-dioxide-coated materials, on the other hand, will not work unless they are exposed to sunlight for hours. But, the sunlight requirement has not
stopped the technology from getting commercial interest. Several wool manufacturers have suggested that they'd like to evaluate the technology.
The researchers are currently working on integrating antimicrobial particles that will essentially kill off bacteria and prevent bacterial penetration. The particles will allow the fabric to dispel odor, such as those from perspiration and cigarette smoke. Self-cleaning clothes are expected to be on the market within the next five years, according to the researchers. Self-cleaning fabrics could revolutionize the sport apparel industry. The technology has already been used to create t-shirts and underwear that can be worn hygenically for weeks without washing. More research is needed before self-cleaning clothes are available at high street shops, but manufacturers are said to be watching developments closely.
The ultimate consequence in developing these self-cleaning fabrics is that we can really limit our use of things like chemicals, energy and water. But there are a whole lot of challenges that need to be overcome to prove the viability of any self-cleaning treatment. It is said that the dimethylformamide used in the process is a potentially carcinogenic health hazard. Currently, industrial testing and mill trials of this patent-pending technology are being conducted. It is anticipated that as soon as the technology receives the approval technically and economically, self-cleaning property will become a standard feature of future textile and other commonly used materials to maintain hygiene and prevent the spreading of pathogenic infection.
About the Author:
The author is associated with the Department of Physics, SLIET, Distt.- Sangrur Punjab.
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