Nano-enhanced textiles clean themselves with light

A spot of sunshine is all it could take to get your washing done, thanks to pioneering nano research into self-cleaning textiles at RMIT.

Microscopic image of cotton mesh. An image magnified 150,000 times showing the detail of nanostructures grown on cotton textiles by RMIT researchers.

Researchers have developed a cheap and efficient new way to grow special nanostructures – which can degrade organic matter when exposed to light – directly onto textiles.

The work 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.

Dr Rajesh Ramanathan said the process developed by the team had a variety of applications for catalysis-based industries such as agrochemicals, pharmaceuticals and natural productsand could be easily scaled up to industrial levels.

“The advantage of textiles is they already have a 3D structure so they are great at absorbing light, which in turn speeds up the process of degrading organic matter,” he said.

“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.”

The researchers from the Ian Potter NanoBioSensing Facility (YouTube) and NanoBiotechnology Research Lab at RMIT worked with copper and silver-based nanostructures, which are known for their ability to absorb visible light.

When the nanostructures 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 RMIT team’s novel approach 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. 

“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,” Ramanathan said.

Led by Ramanathan and Ian Potter NanoBioSensing Facility Director Professor Vipul Bansal, the research team consisted of Samuel Anderson, Mahsa Mohammadtaheri, Dipesh Kumar and Dr Matthew Field, in collaboration with Associate Professor Anthony O'Mullane (QUT).

The research has been published on the cover of the high-impact journal Advanced Materials Interfaces.

aboriginal flag
torres strait flag

Acknowledgement of country

RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business. - Artwork created by Louisa Bloomer

aboriginal flag
torres strait flag

Acknowledgement of country

RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nation on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business.