Feb. 25, 2013
Imagine a world without dirty clothes. Quoc Truong, physical scientist at Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, wants to make that a reality.
“As a single father of four, I fully understand the rationale for self-cleaning clothing, especially when I look back to the time when my children were younger,” Truong said. “So, when former Army General John Caldwell challenged me to come up with clothing that our Soldiers won’t have to wash, I thought that was a great and stimulating challenge.”
Soldiers cannot avoid getting their uniforms dirty while carrying out their missions, especially on the battlefield. Laundering clothes is time-consuming, adds to the logistics burden on the force, and is not always available to forward-deployed Soldiers, who may come into contact with mud, dirt, water, and an assortment of contaminants such as petroleum, oils, and chemicals.
The fabric Truong helped create has a special durable, super-repellent coating with “dual micro- and nano-size architecture.” When this special coating is applied onto clothing, it will give the surface of the clothing a low critical surface energy, or surface tension. When this surface tension is lower than that of the surface tensions of harmful, toxic liquid chemicals, the toxic chemicals would roll off the fabric on contact. Additionally, fabrics that are coated with this special super-repellent coating showed minimal to no attraction to dust and dirt.
“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.
Earlier researchers studied microscopic, naturally non-stick surfaces such as the leaves of the lotus and lily flowers, duck feathers, and the feet of a floating water bug, known as the water strider. They found a uniform, repeating “pimples” structure, and they also observed liquid drops’ contact angle as they sit on these micro- and/or nano-structures.
“We go one step further to make our self-cleaning clothing with a special surface coating to resist wetting by oil and dangerous chemicals,” said Truong, who wanted to apply these findings to benefit Soldiers.
Truong submitted a Small Business Innovation Research, or SBIR, topic on Development and Applications of superoleophobic coatings for textile applications in 2007 based on earlier work on self-cleaning, but more importantly, it was based on Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s recent breakthrough discovery about designing superoleophobic surfaces.
By leveraging MIT’s technical findings, Truong believed he could develop self-cleaning clothing for Soldiers. …