Army scientist develops self-cleaning clothing

A physical scientist at the Natick, Massachusetts-based Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center recently helped to develop a self-cleaning fabric that can resist both dirt and dangerous chemicals.

Quoc Truong accepted a challenge from Army General John Caldwell to develop a fabric that soldiers would not have to wash. Truong helped to create a durable, super-repellent coating with dual micro- and nano-size architecture to give the surface a low critical surface tension. When the surface tension of a fabric is lower than that of toxic liquid chemicals, the chemicals roll off the fabric on contact.

The fabrics coated with the super-repellent coating also show minimal to no attraction to dirt and dust.

"With minimal or no attractions to dirt and other contaminants, textiles' frequent launderings will not be necessary, and wash-free clothing could be developed," Truong said. "We go one step further to make our self-cleaning clothing with a special surface coating to resist wetting by oil and dangerous chemicals."

Truong submitted a Small Business Innovation Research topic on the development of superoleophobic coatings for textiles in 2007. Truong leveraged recent findings by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on superoleophobic surfaces to develop the self-cleaning clothing.

"In making sure that our self-cleaning clothing does not attract dust, dirt, or get wet, is comfortable and durable to wear, and requires minimal or no laundering to stay clean, we have used many standard tests and also came up with many special non-standard tests and demonstrations," Truong said. "This is because in certain scenarios such as testing with mud and dirt, there are no test standards out there for us to use."

During a test in June 2011, 73 percent of 20 participating soldiers said the suits should be adopted for use.

The NSRDEC is working with Luna Innovations, Inc., one of Truong's partners in the development process, to develop multifunctional, self-cleaning, chemical-shedding clothing with a field test scheduled for fall 2013.

"In the next few years, you can expect to see self-cleaning clothing that will also be flame resistant and odor free," Truong said. "These clothes will contain antimicrobial additives, which do not allow microbes to grow on the fabric. Someday, we will not have to clean our clothing as often or not at all, and our clothing will remain clean, odor-free, and keep us safe."