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Washing no longer dirty work


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Self-cleaning clothes could mean an end to endless piles of washing.
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Hong Kong

HONG KONG (CNN) -- Two Chinese scientists have come up with the perfect solution to every laundrophobe's biggest problem -- by developing clothes that never get dirty.

Reminiscent of scenes from the 1951 film "The Man in the White Suit," in which Sir Alec Guinness plays a scientist who invents a fabric that never needs cleaning, the scientists have developed a textile that cleans itself.

Materials scientist Dr. Walid A. Daoud and textile scientist Dr. John Xin, both from The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU), used nanotechnology -- whereby the tiniest particles available to man are used -- to come up with the concept.

They built a thin layer, or "nanostructure," using minute particles of titanium dioxide, a substance that reacts with sunlight to break down dirt and other organic material and can be coated on cotton to keep the fabric clean.

Dr. Daoud said the clothes simply needed to be exposed to natural or UV light for the cleaning process to begin. Once triggered by sunlight, clothing made out of the fabric will be able to rid itself of dirt, pollutants and micro-organisms.

"Basically the whole thing started when we decided to make fabrics functional and more intelligent," he says

Dr. Xin said even though the idea sounded futuristic, he believed the technology could be is everyday use in the near future. The scientists have been approached by several companies interested in making the concept a commercial reality.

He said the technology was complicated and the process to decompose the dirt was gradual.

Self-cleaning clothes would be ideal for people who don't have time to wash their clothes or don't have the facilities to do so, he believed.

"Like military people, or travelers, people who go hiking, who don't have a lot of water and time to wash their clothes," he said.

"This is a very good idea because then if the clothes get dirty, the dirt can be decomposed by the fabric itself. So after a few days in the sunshine, or even indoor light, the dirt will disappear."

He hoped to see the technology applied to clothing and interior textiles and other similar areas.

CNN's Phil O'Sullivan contributed to this story


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