Thanks to pioneering nanotechnology research being developed by RMIT University researchers, people could soon be able to replace their washing machines with a little bit of sunshine. The researchers have been working on self-cleaning textiles by growing nanostructures on textiles. When exposed to light, they release a burst of energy that then degrades organic matter.

So sunshine, or even just a light bulb, could get rid of stains and grime.

And they said the next step could be antibacterial textiles that could kill superbugs.

Dr Rajesh Ramanathan, one of the lead researchers at the Ian Potter NanoBioSensing Facility and NanoBiotechnology Research Lab at RMIT, said the team worked with copper and silver-based nanostructures, which are known for their ability to absorb visible light.

“Basically what we do is take a simple cotton textile, we have a few different new methodologies to grow nanostructures directly on them, and then once these structures are formed we can just shine light on them,” Dr Ramanathan said.

“Because the nanostructure is metal-based they can absorb visible light, what that does is it basically excites the metal nanoparticles which are present on the surface.

“And because of this energy, it’s able to degrade organic matter which is present on it so that’s how it’ll get rid of stains.”

Dr Ramanathan said that out of the two materials, one worked very fast, with the degradation process taking between six to 10 minutes of “shining”.

“The other one does take longer, about 30 minutes, but it’s more stable, so there is a fine balance between stability and the speed,” Dr Ramanathan said.

He said so far they had only tested on stains and had not yet started to test on sweat, but they had tested some difficult organic compounds which successfully degraded in the process.

“So now what we are trying to do is use more consumer-related products, like wine stains or food stains, and try to degrade that and how quickly it can degrade, and how much material is actually required to degrade these kinds of stains,” he said.


‘Material could be used to fight superbugs’

But before the team can announce that people may never need to wash their clothes again, Dr Ramanathan said they still had to establish out what the industry and regulatory authorities requirements were.

“We have some understanding, but we will need more understanding of the system [and] how it works, and once we have that understanding hopefully in the near future we should be able to have self-cleaning textiles, so we can throw the washing machine of the house,” he said.

Dr Ramanathan said this research could be extrapolated in other fields.

“In fields like biology or antibacterial textiles, one of the problems the entire world is facing is superbugs, it’s very difficult to kill them or get rid of them,” he said.

“So one of the potential aspects of this material is that we have started testing it on superbugs and it’s showing amazing results.”

The research has been published in the journal Advanced Materials Interfaces.

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