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The clothes that clean themselves in sunlight
Forget washing machines. Scientists have created a fabric that kills germs and sheds dirt with the aid of sunlight
Using a compound already used in a number of self-cleaning materials, researchers have developed fabric that cleans itself when exposed to sunlight.
Using a compound already used in a number of self-cleaning materials, researchers have developed fabric that cleans itself when exposed to sunlight.
Erik Isakson/Tetra Images/Corbis
H

ate doing laundry? Here's some good news: A team of Chinese scientists from Donghua University has developed a special fabric that rids itself of dirt and germs when exposed to sunlight. Gross? Or a good idea? Here, a brief guide to this potentially time-saving breakthrough:

What's the secret?
The key is a compound called titanium dioxide — "the white material used in everything from white paints to foods to sunscreens," says PhysOrg. When exposed to certain types of light, like ultraviolet rays, it kills microbes and breaks down dirt. The compound is already used in a number of self-cleaning materials, from windows to kitchen and bathroom tiles.

How does it work in clothes?
The researchers set out to coat the fabric's cotton fibers with titanium dioxide. But there was one problem: Most people don't have access to ultraviolet light. In order to make the coating work within "the visible spectrum" — that is, using regular sunlight — researchers combined titanium dioxide with nitrogen, says Olivia Solon at Wired. This made it possible to "easily" remove dye stains when exposing the fabric to sunlight, and additional "nanoparticles made from silver and iodine help[ed] to accelerate the discoloration process."

Great! So everyone's excited about this?
Not exactly. "Sorry, but this sounds a bit gross," says Rosie Swash at the Guardian. Seeing titanium dioxide-coated laundry "airing" on hangers outside doesn't sound promising. On the "plus side," at least a self-cleaning wardrobe would be "better for the environment." But as for the day we'll be able to unplug our washing machines? The fashion world isn't holding its breath.

Sources: Guardian, PhysOrg, Wired

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