Global Textile Trends Round-Up: The Implications of Fabric Innovation – Nanotechnology

In this series of articles on developing trends in textiles, Euromonitor International looks at the arrival of nanotechnology and how this could in turn influence the development of laundry care. Nanotechnology has been a buzzword in science since the 1980s, and, as technology progressed, it was inevitable that its influence would be seen in textiles. The Consumer Products Inventory, which details items containing nanotechnology already available on the market, lists more than 1,600 products, including numerous textiles and garments. While there will be many developments to come, nanotechnology is not a technology of the future – it is already here.

Sweat-Wicking, Odour-Neutralising Technology

The use of nanotechnology in fabric allows the properties of a fabric to be adjusted without any increase in weight, thickness or stiffness. Much of the nanotechnology seen in textile application to date has been tailored towards sportswear, in particular enhancing sweat-wicking qualities. Nanotechnology that kills bacteria and is therefore odour-resistant is also present in many of the available products, focusing on undergarments and footwear in particular. Meanwhile, water and dirt-resistance plus superior insulation are all available thanks to nanotechnology innovation.

With the technology still in its early days, there is no doubt that more developments will come, and that the technology will in time become more practical in terms of cost. Currently, textiles featuring nanotechnology are predominantly standard fabrics which have had a nano-coating applied. However, as the technology develops, fabrics with nanoparticles integral to the weave are likely to become the norm.

Laundry Care Begins to Get in on the Act

Thanks to the close relationship between textiles and laundry care all textile innovation has an impact on the laundry care market to a certain extent. However, as the technology develops and nanotechnology increasingly becomes part of fabric itself rather than a coating, the qualities should be retained wash after wash, meaning new detergent innovation might not be altogether necessary. Of course, this is not to say that there is no opportunity to be had for laundry care manufacturers.

For the time being, light detergents that promise to retain a fabric’s qualities could hold potential, but with nanotechnology relatively new and just a tiny corner of the textile world, it would be unwise to act now with specialised detergents as their appeal would be extremely limited. Instead of producing detergents and fabric softeners intended to preserve and retain a fabric’s qualities, laundry care manufacturers can look to nanotechnology to develop their product range.

Early innovations listed on the Consumer Products Inventory include a fabric softener that incorporates silver nanoparticles, which are credited with powerful antibacterial and odour-neutralising properties. The addition of the softener to the wash adds the particles to the clothing, where they remain to kill bacteria and prevent odour. Other nanotechnology laundry care products listed include a fabric softener that reduces static and prevents detergent residue from clinging to clothing, while another promises enhanced fragrance and another prevents colours from fading. Meanwhile, laundry appliances are also getting in on the act, with numerous appliances listed promising to sterilise the wash, again using silver nano antibacterial technology.

Plenty of Potential but New Technology Brings Risks

It is easy to see how a detergent or laundry aid that adds the likes of anti-odour or anti-crease qualities to a fabric would almost certainly have consumer appeal and could potentially add value to the category. Another avenue to explore for textile and laundry care manufacturers alike is the addition of titanium dioxide or zinc oxide nanoparticles, which can protect garments and skin from sun damage.

On the opposite side of the coin, nanotechnology and in particular the use of silver has come under fire for its potential impact on the environment. While nanosilver is not toxic to humans, it has the potential to be toxic to aquatic life, meaning the possibility of silver nanoparticles being washed off in waste water and posing an environmental problem in the years to come. So, rather than adding particles to the wash, laundry care and laundry appliance manufacturers could potentially take the opposite approach and look to remove them. While the path that nanotechnology will take the textile and laundry care industries along is anything but set in stone, what is certain is that a journey that could potentially change the face of both categories has already begun.