Lazy folks and planet lovers rejoice.
Have you ever picked something out of the laundry basket for a sneaky second (or perhaps third, fourth, or fifth) wear? Are you nodding? Thought so. We all have our everyday fave items that just don’t ever seem to be in the clean clothes pile. By re-wearing items rather than washing them you are actually doing your bit for the planet. According to research by Clearwater Australia the use phase of the washing process has the largest proportion of environmental impacts due to the frequency of operation of the machines and utilisation of the detergents. The use phase contributes to impacts across:
- water use (92% of the life cycle impact);
- energy use (60% of the life cycle impact);
- global warming potential (73% of the life cycle impact); and
- fossil fuel depletion (62% of the life cycle impact).
Of the 92 per cent life cycle impact, 91 per cent is attributable to the washing machine water consumption. In regards to global warming, 30 per cent of impacts are associated with the mechanical energy of the washing machine and 25 per cent with standby power. It is also noted that for energy use, 32 per cent of impacts are associated with the upstream manufacture of detergent. When you add a dryer to the washing mix, you increase the environmental impact of energy use, global warming potential and fossil fuel depletion land use. Which kind of indicates that the less we wash, the better for our schedule and the better for the environment. A double win! What if you had clothing that you could refresh simply by the magic of sunlight?
Introducing No-Wash Fabric Technology.
Researchers at RMIT have developed a cheap and efficient new way to grow special nanostructures (pictured above) – which can degrade organic matter when exposed to light – directly onto textiles. The research conducted by Dr Rajesh Ramanathan and his team 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. Ramanathan states that:
“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. 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 magic happens when these by building copper and silver-based nanostructures, which are known for their ability to absorb visible light, into the fabric structures. When these light absorbing nanostructures are exposed to light, they receive an energy boost that creates “hot electrons”. The “hot electrons” release a burst of energy that enables the nanostructures to degrade organic matter. The challenges the team have faced have been working out how to get the nanostructures permanently attach them to textiles and industrially viable. This was solved by growing the structures in the fabrics and dipping them in solutions to create a stable nanostructure infused fabric within 30 minutes. And it looks like that a little bit of sunlight should result in clean fabrics in as little as six minutes.
Sound too good to be true?
Well the fabric isn’t available to the market yet, so yes, in one way it is a little too good to be true. However, sunlight is a powerful cleaner of fabrics WITHOUT the need for nano technology. So you have the power to use this idea right now… making it better than good because it’s FREE and there are no nano-structures required. You might remember a little while back when I was completing my Wardrobe Workout challenge, I spent a week in the same pants for science to test the ‘stink factor’ of not washing. According the research that this challenge was based on, the levels of bacteria in your clothing plateau, and past that point the number of wears won’t cause and increase in the bacteria present on your garment. Which means that health-wise its ok to keep wearing your clothes and only wash when they stink, or look visibly dirty. You aren’t totally disgusting, you are a planet saving hero. Many natural fibres have their own natural odour prevention properties. Much of this comes from the fact that they draw moisture away from your skin so the bits of your body that naturally sweat don’t get a chance to stay moist and have a bacteria party. Synthetics (unless specifically created for moisture wicking) aren’t absorbent so the moisture your armpit (for example) creates will stay in your armpit providing a great atmosphere for bacteria. Which is why you will get stinkier in a polyester shirt than you do in a cotton one. Fabrics like wool have natural dirt repelling properties and fatty acids that help reduce body odour. Clever huh!
The moral of this story? When your clothes get visibly dirty wash them. When they are a bit stinky hang them in the sun for the day (or a few hours) and let nature kill off the causes of odour. If the smell sticks after some sun then it’s time for a wash. If nanotechnology doesn’t concern you (there are worries about putting teeny tiny man-made things on our skins that they could be absorbed into our bodies and possibly change our body chemistry) and the idea of a no-wash closet is appealing it certainly would be a great way to cut the environmental impact of your closet. As much as technology isn’t going to be the answer to all our Global issues, it sure does interesting things to the advancements of textiles.