The software program for motherhood is impossible to fully download into the male brain. You give them two tasks and they’re like, ‘I have to change the baby and get the dry cleaning?’ —Allison Pearson
Seriously, when we mocked up this ad campaign for a fictional brand of self-cleaning fabrics back in 2011, the whole concept seemed absurd. How could clothes possibly ever be both self-cleaning and comfortable? We assumed any such invention was still a generation or two away. We were wrong.
Slackers everywhere can rejoice because the International Business Times – UK is reporting that self-cleaning clothes are, in fact, possible within the next few years. The technology, which is part biology, is cheap, easy to produce, and works off one of the world’s most plentiful sources of energy: sunlight. I know, that last little detail makes our friends in Oregon and Washington state a little less happy, but I’m sure there’s some workaround. Maybe you can take your clothes to the tanning booth, which would be the first time putting a tanning booth in a laundry actually made sense..
The invention comes from a team at RMIT University in Australia and was just published in the journal Advanced Materials Interfaces. What they have done is create special nanostructures that degrade in sunlight or under a light bulb. By growing these nanostructures on fabric, they render the material self-cleaning. Anything that is dropped onto the fabric dissolves once exposed to sufficient sunlight.
Is this not the coolest thing you’ve read all day, or what?
Don’t start throwing out your washing machine just yet, though. There’s still some research yet to go. Primarily, it is still unknown how long it will take to get out severe/stubborn stains like tomato sauce and wine. There’s also a question of how the nanostructures will respond to totally synthetic materials, especially those created by 3D printers. Not many designers are experimenting with those fabrics, yet, so that particular development is one that can be done in conjunction with the progress of the material.
The other bad news for slackers is that while the nanostructures may clean the clothes, they don’t do anything about body odor. Sorry dudes, but you’re going to have to pause that video game long enough to get up and take a shower at least once a week or something. Really. It’s bad.
We also don’t know if one will be able to post-treat clothes that you already have. If not, that means you ‘re going to need that washing machine a lot longer. And speaking of washing machines, what will this do to the whole appliance and laundry industry? I’m sure they’re not exactly welcoming of a technology that could put them completely out of business. There are multiple considerations at play here beyond the immediate advantages for fashion.
Still, the advantages of a self-cleaning fabric are considerable. They’ll make clothes more durable not having to go through the washing machine on a regular basis. Not having to wash all those clothes means less detergent in the water system. Less energy is required to maintain the clothes. Not having to worry about the delicacies of dry cleaning gives designers more freedom to add texture to their designs with sequins, applique, embroidery, and other difficult to clean elements. One would actually be able to wear delicate fabrics more frequently! And imagine what you could do with all the time you’ll save not having to wash clothes!
There’s no promise as to when this new technology may be commercially available, but know that it is possible and it is going to happen. There is hope for an end to the washday blues!