Clothing and textiles have come a long way since the cotton, rayon and wool of the past. Clothing from work and business attire to casual and athletic gear have taken on physical properties that prevent stains, protect from water, and kill odor and bacteria. Even textiles like bedding and furniture textiles can be treated to increase the safety for consumers in commercial settings like hotels and hospitals. These garments, while still cotton, polyester, and wool, have been treated, often with nano-treatments, to enhance their usefulness and durability without degrading the feel of the fabric.
Many manufacturer and retailers will not advertise that their products use nanotechnology to enhance some physical property, but the treatments do exist and they have been around for decades. Companies like Nano-Tex use nanofabrication techniques to make fabrics that are wrinkle and stain resistant, supplying clothiers such as Gap, LL Bean, Eddie Bauer and JoS A. Bank. Other companies such as Hugo Boss and Brooks Brothers use nanotechnology to treat high-end clothing and suits.
A number of companies in the textile industry supply manufacturing technology to treat textiles in various stages of the manufacturing process. DuPont has divisions that are examining incorporating Teflon in textiles to increase durability. Plasmatreat uses a number of different nanoparticle suspensions that can be incorporated into the manufacturing process to enhance colorfastness or add antimicrobial properties. Plasmatreat uses an openair® plasma deposition process where they coat yarns with nanoparticles just after the spinning stage. The treatment is fast and effective, treating yarns with nanoparticles like titanium dioxide at a rate of one kilometer per minute.
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- Durable colors, functional surfaces, high-speed treatment: plasma in textile manufacturing. [Internet]. 2013 . Available from: http://www.plasmatreat.com/industrial-applications/plasma-treatment-in-textile-manufacturing.html
These nanoapplications have the effect of creating fabrics that do not wrinkle, stain, or allow the growth of bacteria. Anti-microbial socks, underwear, and sporting apparel; wind and water proof jackets; wrinkle and stain resistant suits and casual wear; and swimsuits that protect against UVA and UVB rays are all products that are treated with nanocoatings or use nanotechnology in the manufacturing process.
The benefits of these nanotreatments depends on the specific application.
The risks associated with nanotechnology in textiles depends largely on the technology present, making the identification of the risks complex and ambiguous. Some textiles treated with nanoparticles may pose long-term health and ecological risks due to the release of the particles, their toxicity, and the fate and transport of the particles during wash and use. For example, AGS-20, a nanosilver textile coating from a large Swiss Company, had to be registered with the EPA as a pesticide because of the harmful effects of silver nanoparticles on biological organisms. Other products may prove to be much less harmful and inert, particularly products that incorporate nano-thin coatings of biologically inert or biodegradable substances to enhance physical properties. More research must be performed on the long-term human health and ecological risks of these nanofabricated and treated textiles before definitive assessments of risks can be made.