Stain-repellent Khakis??

Ever strolled into an outfit store and picked out a pair of khaki trousers from a rack that has a big red poster hanging from it with three simple words printed on it: “Stain-Repellent Fabric”? And you go thinking, “Yeah right!”

All of us have gone through the unpleasant experience of dropping drinks and foods on our clothes before and watching in distress at the giant stain that appears soon after. So, how can fabric be stain-repellent? It must simply be a marketing stunt? Incorrect. Welcome to the realm of nanotechnology.

On a basic level, nanotechnology is the manipulation of molecules in order to build structures starting from the molecular state. When working with nanotechnology, scientists work with structures from 1 nanometer to 100 nanometers. In order to understand how small that actually is, you can see below that a red blood cell is approximately 7000 nanometers across.The size of a red blood cell

Now, imagine working with particles seven hundred to seven THOUSAND times smaller – and we all have trouble putting a thread through the eye of a needle!

So how does the concept of nanotechnology have anything to do with stain-repellent fabrics? Working with structures so small allows textile manufacturers like Nano-Tex, to work with nano-sized particles and fibers that further enhance the quality of the fabrics. By using nano-sized fibers, also known as nanowhiskers, these manufacturers are able “to pack extra atoms” into the fabric atoms, which help repel liquids spilt on the surface of the fabrics.  Thus, the fabric is almost invulnerable to liquid as the tightly packed atoms cause the liquid to bead up and slide off the fabric rather than soak into the fabric.

Kool Aid beads up on Fabric

In this picture, red kool-aid is poured onto a pair of trousers and you can see that instead of soaking up into the fabric, the liquid is beading up.

Nanowhisker embedded in fabric

In order to embed the nanowhiskers into the fabric, as shown in the picture, the fabric is submerged into water filled with billions of nanowhiskers. As the water is heated and evaporated, the nanowhiskers bond chemically with the fabric. The nanowhiskers make the fabric hydrophobic, i.e. water-hating. Therefore, the implanting of nanowhiskers prevents the water from soaking into the fabric, and instead they act like “the fuzz on a kiwi” and create a cushion of air around the fabric, causing the liquid to bead up (due to surface tension of the liquid droplet) and roll off. Unfortunately, the chemical makeup of nanowhiskers is unavailable in the public domain and thus, it is not possible to demonstrate the bonding of cotton fabric (cellulose) to nanowhiskers.

So, it turns out that “stain-repellent” clothes are not just a marketing gimmick, but rather cutting-edge technology. However, nanotechnology is not limited to consumer-based products only. Research is ongoing in the field of medicine to produce delivery systems that can pinpoint and destroy viruses and cancers with laser-like accuracy rather than the collateral damage of chemotherapy today. In addition, work is ongoing to produce light-weight carbon materials many hundred times stronger than steel among other applications.

As nanotechnology advances, there are several unanswered questions. What is nanotechnology: 1nm to 100nm or just up to two-tenths of a nanometer? How long will it take before nanotechnology is useful from the mainstream perspective? Are we aware of all the possible deleterious effects of nanotechnology (stain-repellent fabrics), and are there any regulations to protect us from the same? One of the areas of research is increasing the human lifespan – will this be available to all or a prerogative of the rich only?

598 words.


1. ” Introduction to Nanotechnology.” Nanotechnology Made Clear. Web. 17 Oct. 2010.


2. “Nano-particles & Their Uses in Textiles | Processing, Dyeing & Finishing | Features | The

ITJ.” The Indian Textile Journal – Technology & Trade Info for Tomorrow’s Textile

Industry. Web. 17 Oct. 2010.


3.  NanoSense. Web. 17 Oct. 2010. <>.

4. Home. Web. 17 Oct. 2010. <>.

2 thoughts on “Stain-repellent Khakis??

  1. Juhi, your post really sparked a lot of thinking in me, especially the unanswered questions in your concluding paragraph. Having the questions in mind, I dwelled more into the topic through research to see what I could find about this nanotechnology. I was especially interested to see how far it has developed; has it just been used for our daily practical goods, or maybe advancements in the medical or engineering field? My interests in this grew as I found out that…

    Reported on BBC, nanotech helped blind hamsters gain sight! Hamsters, which had their optical nerve tract severed so as to mimic the effect of a traumatic brain injury, re-grew their nerves when nanoparticles were injected into them. More good news – the experiment was equally successful in adult hamsters (whose nerves had already stopped growing) and in young hamsters. This means that, if the same effect were to work on human beings, nanotech would be able to “reconnect disconnected parts of the brain during stroke and trauma” (Dr Ellis-Behnke, BBC). This ground-breaking (though this article was written in 2006, the news is still big!) discovery meant that nanotechnology could save and change many lives (hopefully in the near future), especially where breakthroughs in neuroscience (nerve regeneration) field are quite limited. Hopefully this new technology will promote cell growth in the future, and provide a great contribution to the medical field, especially neurosurgery.

    Other forms of advancements of nanotechnology in the medical field are ‘bionic’ muscles, where ‘breathing’ muscles release hydrogen and alcohol, while absorbing oxygen, as opposed to the current artificial muscles that work with batteries. Though they might not resemble a normal muscle aesthetically, it is powerful in the sense that it ‘mimics nature’;

    “The muscle consumes oxygen and fuel that can be transported via a circulation system; the muscle itself supports the chemical reaction that leads to mechanical work; electrochemical circuits can act as nerves, controlling actuation; some energy is stored locally in the muscle itself; and, like natural muscle, the materials studied contract linearly.” – Dr John Madden, from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada

    So not only has nanotechnology found its way to our daily products like cosmetics, clothes and even sports equipments, but also in the medical area, where nanotech could be the answer to many of our health problems. Other positive reviews of nanotechnology include antibiotics research and powerful, high-performance batteries that carry 100 times more electrical power by weight compared to conventional, standard lithium-ion batteries. However, there is always a catch. I did some research on it, and found out that Nanotechnology is such a new concept to us that there is still insufficient information on the subject that we truly understand, especially harmful side-effects. BBC reports that the UK government failed to look into potential risks of nanotechnology when developing it. If risks do exists, they would be detrimental and be the down-fall of our current advancing developments in the field. In addition, there are also ethical views involved in the matter, mixing up the critiques of the issue, with various religions and cultures are unwilling to accept this developing science. Though everyone has their own perspective and thoughts on this issue, I do hope this does not deter us from envisioning a great potential for this new technology, especially with its possible health benefits, including increasing the human lifespan!

    Works Cited:

    BBC News. “BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Nanotech helps blind hamsters see.” BBC News – Home. N.p., 14 Mar. 2006. Web. 24 Jan. 2011.
    BBC News. “BBC NEWS | Health | Scientists make ‘bionic’ muscles.” BBC News – Home. N.p., 18 Mar. 2006. Web. 24 Jan. 2011.
    BBC News. “BBC NEWS | Health | ‘Nanotech search’ for antibiotics.” BBC News – Home. N.p., 12 Oct. 2008. Web. 24 Jan. 2011.
    BBC News. “BBC News – Nanometre ‘fuses’ for high-performance batteries.” BBC News – Home. N.p., 9 Mar. 2010. Web. 24 Jan. 2011.
    BBC News. “BBC NEWS | Science/Nature | Government ‘failing’ nanoscience.” BBC News – Home. N.p., 28 Mar. 2007. Web. 24 Jan. 2011.
    BBC News. “BBC NEWS | Science & Environment | Religious ‘shun nanotechnology‘.”BBC News – Home. N.p., 8 Dec. 2008. Web. 24 Jan. 2011.
    European Nanotechnology Gateway. “Nanotechnology in Modern Life – Consumer Goods.” Nanoforum – European Nanotechnology Gateway. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Jan. 2011.

  2. Through the use of effective examples, these posts present interesting perspectives on the issues associated with new emerging technologies. Nanotechnology, the ability to make, control and manipulate atoms has very interesting future as scientists and society, not only find new uses for this technology but also struggle with the impact of these discoveries on society. I look forward to following the ethical, legal and political issues in the years to come. It is also interesting to note that the first atoms manipulated were those of the C60 fullerenes. The manipulation of the familiar soccer ball molecule into C60 tubes was one of the key developments in nanotechnology. Some interesting podcasts on nanotechnology and some of the concerns that have been raised can be found on BBC Radio 4. A science video discussion on what is nanotechnology? Will it change the world? is also worth watching.

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