How nano-particle cotton fibres can wipe out bacteria

Soon you will be able to buy a cotton wash cloth that kills bacteria without the need for any harsh chemicals. The cloth is the result of experiments by scientists in New Orleans, USA, working for the Agricultural Research centre.

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Silver has been used as an antibacterial for over a century, but it was only with the invention of nanoparticles – pieces of silver that are less than 100 nanometres in diameter – that they have found commercial use. These particles can now be bonded into plastics and medical materials, where they are incredibly effective at killing off bacteria, including e.coli.

The problem with using these particles in fabric has always been that the nanoparticles wash away when the cloth was laundered. The new technology grows the particles within the cloth itself, securing the silver inside to give the fabric a long-lasting antibacterial action.

Cotton fabric has many uses, from the medical through to household items such as bed linen, and of course clothing. Simple to sew, cotton remains a favourite with tailors and seamstresses, who buy their cotton fabric online from retailers such as

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Antibiotic Resistance

The need to find alternatives to chemical antibacterials has come about because of antibiotic resistance – that is where bacteria become resistant to the usual chemicals that treat them. This has caused companies and organisations to seek out alternatives to drugs and chemicals, which led them to silver. You can read more about antibiotic resistance here:

Although silver nanoparticles are known to be powerful antimicrobials, researchers still aren’t quite sure how this happens. It seems that it could be that silver ions are transferred from the nanoparticle to the bacteria, and this is what causes cell death. Only tiny amounts of silver are needed for an antibacterial effect, making it a cost-effective way to kill off germs.

The new cotton cloth will be even more cost-effective with a recent test showing that after 50 washes the fibres retained around 93% of their microbe-killing potential. In the future, there may be less need for bleaches and disinfectant sprays. Instead, when giving the kitchen a really good clean, you’ll be reaching for your silver-imbued cloth. For the time being, the fabric will be mostly used for medical applications, creating bandages and dressings that will keep wounds clean and clear of infection.