It was in that old commercial where we found out how Mr. Lee got his clothes so clean, “Ancient Chinese secret,” or as we later found out from Mrs. Lee, it was just Calgon. Well times have changed, that Calgon commercial doesn’t fly anymore and we may not even need Mr. Lee’s ancient secret. Researchers from Monash University in Churchill, Australia have developed the basis for self-cleaning clothes. Dr. Walid Daoud, in conjunction with colleagues from Hong Kong Polytechnic University, have been able to functionalize keratinous protein fibers, or in this instance wool. In general wool, although a robust textile fiber, lacks the required thermal and chemical resistance required and intrinsic chemical reactivity to enable its modification. Dr. Daoud overcomes this through a nanotechnology approach that allows him to formulate and subsequently apply the anatase nanocrystals of titanium dioxide to keratin fibers at near room temperature. Therefore the wool fiber’s intrinsic properties are maintained while conferring self-cleaning and UV-resistant properties. Well the proof is in the pudding. The example below shows the success that the functionalized fibers have in self-cleaning a red wine stain when exposed to simulated sun light.
The top row clearly demonstrates that an unmodified keratinous fiber does not have the ability to self-clean. The second and third rows, however, do show this self-cleaning property. The only difference between these samples is that the bottom row has a greater degree of functionalization, which is manifested in its more effective self-cleaning after 20 hours of UV exposure. The chemical modification and nanocrystal coating process do not employ toxic solvents or reagents, furthermore the coating process can withstand laundering. Although isn’t the point that garments made with these fibers wouldn’t have to be laundered? Either way, this is fairly positive scientific development that could be translated to savings on clothing upkeep, and in leaving a lower environmental footprint. More importantly it means I won’t have to see the scary, bearded face of Bill Mays, the OxiCean spokesman.