Nanotechnology in Cleaner Clothes

David Soane, a chemical engineer, started a company called Nano-Tex. He uses the principles of nanotechnology to improve the strength and durability of natural fibers like cotton. He created tiny structures that he calls "nanowhiskers," which are tiny hairs that make liquid spills bead up and roll right off various fabrics.

Soane discovered his idea for nanowhiskers by washing a peach, a fuzzy kind of fruit. "When you wash a peach, very often the water rolls right off," explains Soane. "That's because on the fruit's surface, there are all these little pointed whiskers." The nanowhiskers can repel stains because they form a cushion of air around each cotton fiber. When something is spilled on the surface of the fabric, "the miniature whiskers actually prop up the liquid drops, allowing the liquid drops to roll off," says Soane, who calls his stainproofing process, Nano-Care.

Each of Soane's synthetic nanowhiskers is only 10 nanometers long, made of only a few atoms of carbon. "They repel a range of fluids," says Soane, "including coffee, tea, salad oil, ketchup, soy sauce, cranberry juice."

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