Slobs rejoice, dry cleaners take heed: A team of chemists in Australia and Hong Kong has finally developed clothes that clean themselves.
In a two-step process, the scientists dipped cloth into an organic compound and then into a bath of titanium dioxide crystals grown using nanotechnology. Both chemicals are transparent and nontoxic, and both adhere to clothing fibers. But unlike most stain-resistant clothing, fibers treated with titanium dioxide don't prevent stains from settling down. Instead, when exposed to ultraviolet light, as in sunlight, the titanium causes chemical reactions that degrade food or drink molecules, loosening their grip on that favorite shirt, say.
To test their work, the scientists prepared the worst-imaginable fiber-stain combination, red wine on white wool (above). Stains on control groups of untreated wool looked no cleaner after 20 hours' exposure to sunlight. But after a...