Self-Healing Fabric Could Be the End to Torn Clothes

ripped jeans kanye west self-healing fabric
Kanye West attends a fashion event in ripped jeans at Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City on May 2. Researchers at Penn State have developed a fabric that can heal itself when damaged. Larry Busacca/Getty Images

Clothing tears could be a thing of the past if a new material capable of "healing" itself after being ripped proves to be commercially viable.

Researchers at Pennsylvania State University created a fabric-coating technology derived from squid ring teeth that allows conventional textiles to self-repair.

"Fashion designers use natural fibers made of proteins like wool or silk that are expensive and they are not self-healing," said Melik Demirel, a professor of engineering science and mechanics at Penn State. "We were looking for a way to make fabrics self-healing using conventional textiles. So we came up with this coating technology."

The coating allows fabrics, including wool and cotton, to bind back together when some water and pressure is applied. This means an item of clothing with the coating could be repaired by simply putting it in a washing machine.

During the coating process, enzymes can be added to break down certain chemicals on contact. "If you need to use enzymes for biological or chemical effects, you can have an encapsulated enzyme with self-healing properties degrade the toxin before it reaches the skin," said Demirel.

The researchers believe the self-healing coating could be best used in chemically protective suits for farmers using pesticides, factory workers operating in toxic environments, or soldiers at risk to chemical or biological attacks.

"The coatings are thin, less than a micron, so they wouldn't be noticed in everyday wear. Even thin, they increase the overall strength of the material. For the first time, we are making self-healing textiles," Demirel added.