Since the early 2000s, the fashion industry has been promising nanotechnology in fabrics. No matter how much indifference the shopping public displays toward T-shirt-powered smartphones, we keep hearing those ideas get tossed around. To be fair, the idea of piezoelectric generators does have some practical points [source: Nanowerk]. Imagine having a tent that could generate enough electricity from small breezes to charge up LED flashlights. Or how about a boat that could reload its batteries with every flap of its sail? Suddenly, nanotech in fabric starts to make sense.
But not all nanotech ideas are received so well. Many questions and concerns have sprung up surrounding a new product for killing odor-causing bacteria in clothing. Nanosilver is exactly what its name suggests, nano-sized bits of silver. Sports clothing designers and laundry procrastinators got excited when they discovered that nanosilver could prevent clothing and other products from developing that post-run funk. The silver particles attract the offending bacteria and basically pop their cells. The problem is that nanosilver kills bacteria indiscriminately, can't be removed at sewage treatment plants (which rely on beneficial bacteria) and has been shown to cause birth defects in fish and other organisms. So washing products treated with nanosilver could have serious environmental ramifications.
In late 2011, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gave limited permission to manufacture nanosilver products until its safety could be verified – a decision that has resulted in lawsuits on behalf of the public [source: EPA]. And if that's not a little creepy, the fact that nanosilver is viewed as a pesticide by the EPA will make you think twice before wearing it on your body. Suddenly, laundry day looks much more inviting.