updated 11/26/2004 6:06:11 PM ET 2004-11-26T23:06:11

Skip the laundry detergent.

Clemson University researchers say they have created a coating that can be integrated into virtually any fabric, allowing dirt to be released when water is applied.

The patented coating allows clothing to be cleaned simply by spraying with water or wiping with a damp cloth and reduces the number of cleanings required.

The coating method could be sold to textile companies to be integrated into fabrics and one day could be available to retail customers as a spray-on. Not anytime soon, though; researchers say it could be five years before fabrics infused with the coating make it to the market.

The National Textile Center, a research consortium of eight universities including Clemson, provided funding for the study through a grant administered by the U.S. Department of Commerce.

It's good science for apparel makers, but a spokesman with the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition worries that similar research will be exported overseas if the country continues to lose textile manufacturing jobs.

"It's a great thing," said AMTAC spokesman Lloyd Wood. "It's the type of thing that our industry has been doing, but unfortunately what you'll see is attempts to knock off that fabric or down the road you could see those (research and development) jobs go overseas."

The coating is one of the latest applications of "nanoscience," which has been used for everything from creating stain- and wrinkle-resistant clothing to increasing computer memory.

The coating -- a polymer film mixed with silver nanoparticles -- is infused into fabric, creating a series of microscopic bumps that cause dirt and other substances to bounce off when water is applied.

"Imagine a drop of water trying to sit on ... tiny bumps," said Philip Brown, a Clemson textile chemist. "It rolls off, and it'll take anything with it. Without the bumps, you can't get that repellent effect."

That's what makes it different from the coating applied to a raincoat, which is more like Teflon, made by DuPont Co. Unlike most water-repellent materials that are applied as an additional layer to the fabric, the polymer film is integrated into the fabric. The new coating is "much more repellent than a traditional coat because it's reactive to the fiber," Brown said.

He said the film won't make clothing look glossy because the particles are too tiny to be seen and, theoretically, have no color because they are smaller than the wavelength of light.

Besides clothing, the film also could be used on lawn furniture, convertible car tops and outdoor campers.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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