Pollution-Cleaning Clothing May Only Be Two Years Away

What if every time you got dressed in the morning, it helped reduce air pollution in your city? According to new research from on of the UK’s leading research universities, washing your clothes in a special type of laundry detergent can turn you into a human-sized air filter.

Researchers at the University of Sheffield are developing a laundry additive that contains microscopic pollution-eating particles of titanium dioxide. When clothes are washed in the additive, and then come into contact with nitrogen oxides in the air, they react with the pollutants and oxidize them in the fabric.


Image via University of Sheffield

This seemingly miraculous additive is called “CatClo,” short for “catalytic clothing.” If the idea of wearing nanoparticle-soaked clothes makes you break out in hives, relax, the additive’s inventors say it’s completely odorless and colorless and poses no pollution hazard. In fact, it’s the harmless sunshine that gives CatClo its clout.

“It’s the action of daylight on the nanoparticles that makes them function in this way,” said Professor Tony Ryan OBE of the University of Sheffield, who has co-led the project with Professor Helen Storey MBE from London College of Fashion. “The development of the additive is just one of the advances we’re making in the field of photocatalytic materials – materials that, in the presence of light, catalyse chemical reactions. Through CatClo, we aim to turn clothes into a catalytic surface to purify air.”

According to the team one person wearing clothes treated with CatClo would be able to remove around 5g of nitrogen oxides from the air in the course of an average day—roughly the equivalent to the amount produced each day by the average family car. The additive  breaks down in the presence of human sweat, and washes out completely with normal laundering.

“If thousands of people in a typical town used the additive, the result would be a significant improvement in local air quality”, says Professor Ryan. “This additive creates the potential for community action to deliver a real environmental benefit that could actually help to cut disease and save lives. In Sheffield, for instance, if everyone washed their clothes in the additive, there would be no pollution problem caused by nitrogen oxides at all.”


Beth Buczynski is a freelancer writer and editor currently living in the Rocky Mountain West. Her articles appear on Care2, Ecosalon and Inhabitat, just to name a few. So far, Beth has lived in or near three major U.S. mountain ranges, and is passionate about protecting the important ecosystems they represent. Follow Beth on Twitter as @ecosphericblog

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