Nanoparticles and New Technologies
Nanofinishing is an area of textile technology which has developed significantly in the last few years. Your flame retardant curtains, or kids UV blocking wetsuit is sure to have been made possible by nanotechnology. ‘Nano’ comes from the Greek word nanos which means dwarf. Nano particles are therefore tiny particles which can have extraordinary effects on textiles without altering the texture or look of the fabric.
Nanoparticles are being used to create fascinating textiles products, however just like any new products, these items must be safe to use. For this reason a new field of science has emerged called ‘nanotoxicology’ which investigates the interaction between man, nanoparticles and the environment to ensure that the process is safe for all.
There are a number of applications for nanotechnology in the clothing and textile industry. As demand has increased for bioactive and antibacterial products, nanotechnology allows for UV blocking, flame retardant, water repellent, self cleaning and anti-bacterial finishes. In coating the surface of the textile with nanoparticles, the properties of the fabric can be altered. Whilst UV protection, flame retardance, water repellence and self cleaning finishes come from the use of nano-metal oxides, nano-silver is used for antimicrobial finishes.
UV blocking has been particularly popular for children’s outdoor clothing and wetsuits as parents have become more aware of the damage caused by sun exposure. UV blocking is enhanced when a dye or ultraviolet absorber is present which absorbs ultraviolet radiation and blocks transmission. Self cleaning wool and silk can be used for socks. The same nanoparticle coating is used as to keep windows clean. The natural fibres of wool and silk are composed of keratins which are widely used but difficult to clean. The coating is permanently bonded to the fibre and doesn’t alter its texture. The self cleaning property is triggered by exposure to natural sunlight and can even keep red wine stains at bay.
The Hohenstein Institute, based in Germany, is currently studying the safety of nano-functional textiles. Scientists are working on a number of research projects in the field of nanotoxicology to establish the key scientific principles for ensuring the sustainability and safety of nanoparticles, although it is generally thought that nanoparticles are non-toxic to humans.
To test the safety aspect, researchers are using the established OECD test method, already used in toxicology. The team lead by Dr Timo Hammer, supplements these tests by using reliable organ models. Scientists at the Institute are also studying the environmental impact of nanotechnology, to investigate whether the free particles, finished textiles, or the waste water from the factory process could be damaging to the natural environment and local ecosystems.
Nanotechnology certainly has some remarkable applications in the textile industry, but research such as that being carried out by the Hohenstein Institute is essential to undercover whether some things are just too good to be true.
Emma Waight is a PhD geography researcher and freelance fashion writer for www.clothes.org.uk. Keep up-to-date with the latest fashion news by following Clothes on twitter.