Chinese Researchers Develop Waterproof Cotton

Posted on Tuesday, April 12, 2011

by Alex Knapp

In Back to the Future II, Marty McFly travels to the distant future of 2015.  After a fight with a teenage gang, he’s submerged in water.  When he comes back on to land, his futuristic jacket starts beeping.  Marty then pressed a button on his jacket, and a fan started that air-dried his jacket.

If some Chinese researchers are successful, though, that solution to wet clothes might seem quaint.

A group of materials researchers at China’s Northeast Normal University have developed a new treatment process for off-the-shelf cotton cloth.  The treatment, which is currently a three-step process involving zinc oxide, silica, and other materials, takes about a day.  But the results are impressive: the resulting cloth is both waterproof and and is literally off the charts when it comes to resisting ultraviolet radition.

In a recent paper published in ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces, Lingling Wang and his associates describe a method of using zinc oxide nanorods and zinc oxide crystallites to create a coating that bonds to cotton fiber resulting in a material that its creators hope will help meet the needs of a world that wants multi-functional clothes; in this case, clothes that are “green” (don’t need cleaning) and help protect the wearer’s skin from harmful ultraviolet radiation.

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The result is a material that is not only waterproof but is able to block out UV radiation from the sun to such an extent that it would rate a Ultraviolet Protection Factor (UPF) of 101.15 if the chart went that high. The rating is in effect, double the highest possible rating on the normal chart, and considerably higher than consumers are accustomed to seeing on suntan lotion bottles.

The paper is available online here

The next step for the research team is to test the process to see if it holds up under real world conditions.  If the process is inexpensive enough, it could make for more durable clothes that last longer and need to be cleaned much less frequently.  It’ll be interesting to see where the research leads.