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Silica nanoparticles make wool even more wonderful


December 22, 2009

The silica nanoparticle coating changes the surface of the wool to make it more water absorbent (Image American Chemical Society)

The silica nanoparticle coating changes the surface of the wool to make it more water absorbent (Image American Chemical Society)

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Already regarded as a “wonder fabric” for its lightness, softness, warmth even when wet, and other qualities, scientists from China say they have been able to improve on the natural properties of wool. They say their discovery could give wool a “brain,” placing it among other “smart” fabrics that shake off wrinkles, shrinkage and “breathe” to release perspiration.

Wool’s natural water-repellency also acts as a barrier to enhanced features such as anti-wrinkle, anti-shrinkage finishing and dyeing. This property also hinders its ability to absorb moisture and makes wool garments feel sweaty.

Although scientists have developed treatments that make wool more hydrophilic, or water-absorbing, they may not last long, may damage the fabric, and are not environmentally-friendly.

By coating the wool with an ultrathin silica layer the scientists found they were able to make the wool more water-absorbing without the problems associated with existing treatments. The coating is made from silica nanoparticles 1/50,000th the width of a human hair. The particles altered both the surface roughness and surface energy of the fiber and endowed the wool fabrics with excellent water absorption. The new layer does not affect wool's color or texture and can withstand dry cleaning, the scientists note.

The study, "Fabricating Superhydrophilic Wool Fabrics," detailing the scientists’ research appears in ACS’ bi-weekly journal, Langmuir.

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick

I don\'t quite understand why this is an improvement. I\'m no fabric tech guy, but I\'m Norwegian and use wool extensively for sports like sailing, snowboarding, biking and trekking in any type of weather. Wool is the perfect technical underwear BECAUSE it does NOT absorb water, and thus feels fairly DRY even when it\'s wet. Some synthetic cloths are also quite good, by mimicking the non absorbing qualities of wool, but wool is clearly the best performer, although it\'s a bit more vulnerable to wear and tear.

The downside of wool and some of the other technical sports underwear, is that they are sometimes a bit coarse surfaced, and not quite as comfortable on the skin as cotton, the more usual clothing material. But cotton in sports clothing is an absolute NO. The cotton fibres absorbs water very well, which makes the garment feel as wet as it actually is. This is very uncomfortable on the skin and it destroys the insulating properties of the garment.

Wearing a cotton T-shirt or cotton boxers under wool sweaters or fleece etc, is a certain recipe for a bad day. The first time you heat up and release a bit of sweat, the cotton feels completely wet by sweat, and will make you very cold soon after reducing your activity. It will stay wet for a looong time.

With only technical clothing, (wool is clearly the best) moisture will not be significantly absorbed, but rather be transported away from the body and dry off on the outside of your multi layer clothing. This is valid when the insulating cloting has a wind-/ watertight shell outside or not, for very cold dry climate in in winter mountains or warm climate marine sports, and even inside a sealed dry suit (preferably out of Hellytech or Goretex fabrics) in constant heavy sea spray.

So, summing it up: I don\'t understand how making wool into an absorbing material can be any sort of improvement, and make it feel LESS sweaty... Even moderate sweat will make a cotton garment feel very sweaty, and totally unsuitable for any activity, BECAUSE it\'s water absorbing...



I couldn\'t have asked it better. I\'ve been sitting here trying to think of why I want wool to soak up water.... Nothing.

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Scientists should be required to spend some time in the real world before their allowed to mess with with anything..

Yours obviously haven't !

Mark Whitton
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