Researchers in China have devised a treatment for cotton that makes the fabric both flame-resistant and waterproof. The scientists, from Jilin University, were attempting to extend the life of fire-retarding treatments, and hit on the idea of following the flame-proofing with a water-proofing. They dipped the cotton into a series of chemicals: a binding agent to make sure the chemicals stuck to the cloth, a fire-resistant material called ammonium polyphosphate, and then a mix of silsesquioxane and ethanol, which seal against water.
The resulting material is still flexible and porous, but when exposed to fire it releases a gas that stifles flames, depriving them of oxygen and preventing burning. A normal strip of cotton exposed to flame burns up completely in a few seconds, but the treated cotton is merely charred. Meanwhile, the outer layer provides straightforward and durable waterproofing, which persisted after burning and "1,000 cycles of abrasion," i.e. rubbing. A second layer of silsesquioxane even acts as a self-healing agent, filling gaps where the waterproofing has scraped off.
This super-advanced cotton probably won't be on the store racks for a while, but it may make its way to things like firefighters' coats or military textiles. The research was published in the journal ACS Nano.
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