A UO spinoff company has developed a fabric treatment that can be applied to activewear clothing to prevent odor-causing bacteria from growing — ideally, allowing runners or athletes to wear shirts several times before they ever need to be washed.
Dune Sciences uses silver nanoparticles to create a layer of protection for shirts and socks. Silver nanoparticles are antimicrobial, which thwart bacteria growth.
Located in the UO’s Riverfront Innovation Center, the lab is also developing a retail version of their technology called deFUNKit — which contains a prewash intended to remove detergent buildup and a durable odor shield to keep the funky smell from returning. Both the fabric treatment and the prewash are in a final testing phase before being released commercially.
UO chemistry professor Jim Hutchison cofounded Dune Sciences with John Miller, another nanomaterials expert, with the intention of developing nanotechnologies. Richard Geiger, Dune Sciences CEO, joined the company a year and a half ago to help commercialize products in the antimicrobial space.
Geiger said he became interested in the product after renting space in the same Riverfront Innovation Center as Dune Sciences and learning how Dune’s technology could prevent mildew smell in towels, a common problem in damp western Oregon.
“The results were amazing,” he said. “You could use a towel until it was stiff like cardboard and it wouldn’t smell bad, and so that was kind of the impetus for me getting involved in the company.”
The treatment process is a simple, two-step process. First, the garment is immersed in the nanoparticle solution, which looks like lemonade. Next, a binder agent is added to the solution, causing the particles to permanently bond to the clothing fibers.
“The technology prevents bacteria from growing on the surface of the garment, which keeps them from smelling bad,” Geiger said.
Hutchison said silver has been studied extensively and found to have no adverse effects on humans. That includes nanoparticles, which also have been examined closely for possible health risks. Hutchison estimated that hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent to understand the safety of the particles.
“We actually have an Environmental Protection Agency-funded center on campus that studies the impacts of nanoparticles in the environment and with organismal health,” he said.
Silver is nontoxic, and it’s common for people to take silver health supplements, Hutchison said.
“In fact, it’s not surprising because humans have used silver for millennia, and we know that even large containers like pitchers and goblets that were used thousands of years ago give off silver particles, so humans have been exposed to them for a long time,” he said.
Geiger said fabrics can be worn multiple times before they need to be washed, and the typical treatment lasts for about 30 regular washes. Nanoparticle-coated garments do not have an odor and can be washed normally. With that kind of technology, there are a number of possible markets, from medical to sportswear, with benefits ranging from preventing infections to reducing water consumption due to reduced laundry.
“Our ultimate goal is to build a company whose products protect people and the environment while providing local jobs and a positive return for our investors,” Geiger said.
So far, silver nanoparticles have passed the smell test.
Source: University of Oregon