Scientists have come up with a way to make rips in clothes repair themselves. Teenagers are going to be furious.
The self-repairing materials, created by researchers at Penn State University, are based on proteins from a squid’s ring teeth. By coating wool or cotton with materials derived from these proteins, tears can be patched or repaired by wetting the damaged spot and applying pressure for a few minutes. Here it is in action:
Treating the fabric is also easy. You just have to dip it into a solution. “We currently dip the whole garment to create the advanced material,” project leader Melik Demirel said in a press release, “but we could do the threads first, before manufacturing if we wanted to.”
The squid-tooth-based material has one big advantage over alternative methods for healing fabrics: It’s stable in almost any environment. Wet or dry, the coating isn’t supposed to break down or dry out and crack like some other methods. That’s important, because if you’re using it to extend the useful life of clothes, then you want it to last as long as those clothes.
The other use is as a self-healing coating for protective clothing. First, the coating can be modified to contain an enzyme that breaks down toxic materials. This would be great for hazmat suits and the like, while laundering the suit would automatically repair any tiny defects the have opened up. The coating also increases the strength of the material, while adding little weight.
Uses for this technology are likely to be specialized, but imagine an already durable piece of clothing like the 10-year hoodie with this coating added. You wouldn’t even have to send it in for free repair. Just wash it and squeeze the edges of a rip together. The process leaves scars, but that just makes the thing look cooler still. Self-healing clothes might be a gimmick now, but they could be the key to truly sustainable clothing.
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