Science Scope

Using clothes to purify the air around us

Using clothes to purify the air around us

Posting in Cities

Mixing science and fashion is a beautiful thing, especially when it involves a line of clothes that purifies air.

I've been to a few fashion shows that flaunt eco-friendly clothing on the runway after the designers figured out a way to keep the carbon foot print low and source sustainable materials, but I've never seen anything like this: clothes that can purify the air. University of Sheffield scientist Tony Ryan and London College of Fashion designer Helen Storey are behind this Catalytic Clothing line, which mixes fashion with chemistry to clean the air around you.

As we all cram into cities, pollution from manufacturing plants and cars undoubtedly fill the air. In theory, the specially-designed clothes are made with a raw material called titanium dioxide. It uses the power of a photocatalyst to break down air borne pollutants. The material is washed into the clothes, so when it dries it can purify air, the professors told The BBC.

As you walk through the air, it removes nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds, the main signatures of air pollution. The technology is already used in paints and cement.

Still, this all sounds more like hopeful thinking than a product that is ready for market. The BBC spells out the limitations clearly:

The process which has been described as 'deeply technical' is estimated to take a further two years to complete, however there are no plans for the product to be released commercially.

In other words, don't line up at the store, looking for the purifying air line of clothing anytime soon. A previous project between the two universities, the researchers made Wonderland, clothes that dissolved in water.

Others have flirted with the idea of making clothes smarter and more energy efficient before. For instance, Wearable Absence is embedding garments with sensors to identify a person's mood. And another designer by the name of Andrew Schneider spends 80 hours making solar bikinis by hand. Schneider can't wait until solar power becomes embedded into every day objects, so our devices can get their juice back more naturally.

One of the more interesting uses of smarter fabrics has been its use in medical surgery, which is made by MIT researcher Yoel Fink. Fibers are interesting structures. We use them in our clothes, but lets face it, they haven’t changed much over the last thousands of years. Fink is making fibers with electronic properties. Imagine if your clothes could record your surroundings, could hear your heart beat, or create energy from movement. We are in for a fiber revolution, Fink previously told me.

Whatever we are in for, our clothes might soon be charging our iPhones and clean the air around us so we don't have to gag when a bus pushes the hot air into our lungs.

Sheffield University develops clothes to 'purify' air [BBC news]

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Boonsri Dickinson

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Boonsri Dickinson is a freelance journalist based in San Francisco. She has written for Discover, The Huffington Post, Forbes, Nature Biotech, Technewsdaily.com, Techstartups.com and AOL. She's currently a reporter for Business Insider. She holds degrees from the University of Florida and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure