Re-colorable clothes
December 3, 2007 4:01 PM   Subscribe

ChemistryFilter: What chemicals are out there that can stain a t-shirt, but then be quickly dissolved with a chemical? Bonus points: Chemicals are safe enough for compost heap, and won't dissolve in a washing machine.

I'm in an environmental class at my college and my assignment was to redesign a common object to be more environmentally friendly and similar to ideas presented in cradle to cradle. My concept is a reusable graphic t-shirt that has a design that can be dissolved and reprinted so that t-shirts that are no longer wanted or considered stylish can be reused without having to buy entirely new shirts, saving cotton, shipping, overseas labor, etc. I have the idea pretty well planned out aside from what chemicals I would need. I'm thinking about using natural pigments like the one in red wine that can be dissolved with ammonia.

Are there many other pigments like this? It's not critical that I explain every chemical reaction, but I think it would help my assignment look like a better idea if I charted out how every step of the process would work. The only missing gap is the specific chemicals.
posted by mccarty.tim to Science & Nature (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Ink --> rubbing alcohol

Or, at least it worked well enough for me when I left the cap off a pen that the ink stain is undistinguishable now.
posted by LionIndex at 4:10 PM on December 3, 2007

Here's a solution, if you want to go high-tech... Most of the article deals with the problem of getting dyes to stick to bubbles, but there's a good chunk that discusses ink that 'fades away' when rubbed, etc.

He synthesized a dye that would bond to the surfactants in a bubble to give it bright, vivid color but would also lose its color with friction, water or exposure to air—not fade, not transfer to something else, but go away completely, as though it had never been there. When one of these bubbles breaks on your hand, rub your hands together a few times and look: Poof. Magic. No more color. If the bubble breaks on your shirt or the carpet or the dog, you have two choices: Dab it with a touch of plain water to remove it immediately, or forget about it for half an hour. Either way, the color will soon be gone.

Sabnis's solution was to build a dye molecule from an unstable base structure called a lactone ring that functions much like a box. When the ring is open, the molecule absorbs all visible light save for one color—the color of the bubble. But add air, water or pressure, and the box closes, changing the molecule's structure so that it lets visible light pass straight through. Sabnis builds each hue by adding different chemical groups onto this base.

posted by flibbertigibbet at 5:07 PM on December 3, 2007

Best answer: I just put this to my former-chemistry-whiz husband, and he says:
You might be able to do some stuff with a poly-vinylalcohol. You can get ones that are stable and washable in cold water but dissolve in hot. Put ink on the polymer, bond to shirt, wash whenever you want in cold, wash in hot to remove.

Not practical for a consumer product, because noobs will use a hot wash an lose their print. Could be a fun idea for home inkjet tshirt making, however.
posted by web-goddess at 5:16 PM on December 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

Iodine + starch = dark blue. Add vitamin C solution (ascorbic acid) and it turns pale yellow.

I'm not sure how the iodine would fare in a washing machine though.
posted by smackfu at 5:32 PM on December 3, 2007

Not quite what you're after, but Tumeric stains fade very easily when exposed to UV light for an extended period of time.
posted by cholly at 6:16 PM on December 3, 2007

I have the idea pretty well planned out aside from what chemicals I would need.

I like your concept, but I just wanted to point out that in most cases, the idea is the chemicals you would need. I mean, I have ideas about sugar-powered helicopters; it's just the conversion process that needs some tweaking...

That aside, utilizing the magnetic fluid stuff all over youtube might be interesting. An etch-a-sketch shirt? A shirt that changes everytime you walk underneath power lines? Drag a magnet across it, and start over...
posted by suedehead at 7:13 PM on December 3, 2007

Response by poster: @Suedehead: I agree 100% with you, but this is well developed enough for my environmental cinema class. I don't need anything like a patent. Speaking of which, if anyone wants to pick up this idea and run with it, nothing's stopping you.
posted by mccarty.tim at 10:50 PM on December 3, 2007

Doesn't Oxyclean do this to grape juice? Or something like that?
posted by orangemiles at 8:02 PM on December 4, 2007

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