Goodbye needle & thread? ‘Self-healing’ liquid allows fabrics to repair themselves

© Andrea Comas
The days of patching up a torn pair of jeans with spare fabric may soon be over. Scientists are working on a special liquid that essentially allows everyday clothes to repair themselves.

The trick lies in a self-healing, polyelectrolyte liquid that is currently being developed by researchers at Penn State University.

Made from bacteria and yeast, the liquid can help most fabrics bind together once torn. It contains proteins similar to those found in squid ring teeth, which also have self-repairing qualities.

The healing process involves putting the substance on the torn fabric, applying warm water, and pressing the edges together. The fabric then reattaches, effectively repairing itself.

“We were looking for a way to make fabrics self-healing using conventional textiles. So we came up with this coating technology," Melik C. Demirel, a professor of engineering science and mechanics at Penn State, said in a statement, adding that the invention could prove beneficial for expensive clothing, such as wool and silk, which are not cheap to replace or repair.

The liquid could also be applied to new clothing as a coating, so garments would have the inherent ability to repair themselves with a little water and pressure.

“We currently dip the whole garment to create the advanced material,” said Demirel. “But we could do the threads first, before manufacturing if we wanted to.”

The thin coating, which Demirel said will increase the overall strength of clothing, could also be tailored to particular fabrics.

Moreover, the liquid – which so far doesn’t have a name – could have more serious applications beyond aesthetic ones.

According to the researchers, the coating could protect farmers from exposure to organophosphate pesticides, soldiers from chemical or biological attacks, and factory workers from accidental releases of toxic materials. It could also be used on medical meshes to minimize the risk of infection.

The research was published in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.