Clean Clothes Can Clear The Air
September 28, 2012

Clearing The Air With Pollution-busting Laundry Additive

April Flowers for - Your Universe Online

A new laundry additive that contains microscopic pollution-eating particles may soon be on the market. The product, called CatClo, is the result of a collaboration between the University of Sheffield and the London College of Fashion.

Initial support for the product came from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (ESPRC).

Clothing would only need to be washed in the additive once because the nanoparticles of titanium dioxide cling very tightly to the fabric. When these particles come into contact with nitrogen oxides in the air, they oxidize the pollutants into the fabric.

The odorless, colorless nitrogen oxides treated this way pose no pollution hazard, as they are removed when the item of clothing is washed next. They can also be dissipated harmlessly in sweat. The additive itself is also completely harmless and the nanoparticles are unnoticeable from the point of view of the person wearing the clothing.

Each person wearing CatClo-treated clothing could remove up to 5g of nitrogen oxides from the air over the course of a day. That is roughly the equivalent of the amount produced each day by the average family car.

Nitrogen oxides, especially those produced by vehicle exhausts, are a major source of ground-level air pollution in urban areas. They aggravate asthma and other respiratory diseases. People with such conditions wearing clothes treated in CatClo would give themselves cleaner air to breathe as they moved around.

According to Professor Tony Ryan OBE of the University of Sheffield: "It's the action of daylight on the nanoparticles that makes them function in this way. The development of the additive is just one of the advances we're making in the field of photocatalytic materials — materials that, in the presence of light, catalyze chemical reactions. Through CatClo, we aim to turn clothes into a catalytic surface to purify air."

"If thousands of people in a typical town used the additive, the result would be a significant improvement in local air quality", says Professor Ryan. "This additive creates the potential for community action to deliver a real environmental benefit that could actually help to cut disease and save lives. In Sheffield, for instance, if everyone washed their clothes in the additive, there would be no pollution problem caused by nitrogen oxides at all."

The first article of Catalytic Clothing was a dress, but the team says the additive works particularly well on denim and that there are more blue jeans on the planet than people. A catalytic "field of jeans" is on display at the Manchester Science Festival from October 27 — November 4, 2012.

Professor Helen Storey, of London College of Fashion, says, "When Science and Culture work together in this way, it becomes possible to involve the intended end user in the early stages of the development of the technology. This in itself is still a relatively new concept. Through the making of a short viral film about CatClo, we were able to reach an audience of over 300 million people, from across 147 countries, engaging the public in the normally hidden research process. The direct feedback and enthusiasm we received revealed a massive market for this product from potential consumers who understand the concept behind it."

"We're now working closely with a manufacturer of environmentally friendly cleaning products to commercialize our laundry additive," says Professor Ryan. "We believe that using the additive in a final rinse with a full washing load could potentially cost as little as 10 pence — a small price to pay for the knowledge that you're doing something tangible to tackle air pollution and increase the life expectancy of people with respiratory conditions. We're confident there's a really big market out there for this product."