Your jeans can clean the air


The levels of some airborne pollutants are continuously rising in many cities all over the world. This is especially the case for nitrous oxides (known as NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), emitted by cars and some industries. To help combat this problem, Professor Helen Storey – a leading UK artist and fashion designer – and chemistry professor Tony Ryan have come up with the idea of catalytic clothing. When you wear these specially treated clothes, a catalyst in the jeans fabric breaks down NOx and VOCs into harmless chemicals which are then washed away. Calculations show that three people wearing these specially treated jeans can remove the same amount of NOx that a car produces  in one day!

How does this work? The jeans fabric is treated with a compound called a photocatalyst. Under the influence of light, this compound can accelerate specific chemical reactions without undergoing any change itself. The new catalytic clothing is treated with the compound titanium dioxide (chemical formula TiO2), which is produced using chlorine chemistry. This substance helps convert the harmful NOx and VOCs into harmless molecules. The process works well under both natural and artificial light. The TiO2 is introduced into the clothing during the normal washing cycle, where it binds to the fabric. For example, the TiO2 could be added to the fabric softener or the detergent.

While a single garment, like a pair of jeans, is only able to remove a small portion of the airborne pollutants, a large number of individuals acting together could have a noticeable effect on the level of air pollution in our cities. These types of photocatalysts are already used in paints, cement and paving stones to further help remove pollutants from the air. The technology is being perfected so that catalytic clothing could become a commercial reality in a few years.

See also:
• Can pavements clean the air around you?
• Titanium dioxide: the whitest white

Picture capture (choose which): if enough people wear specially treated jeans, the air quality in our cities will improve