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Sustainable polymer coating for stainproof fabrics


The excessive use of synthetic detergents in laundry operations is an important source of environmental pollution. As a result, sustainability-driven innovations are receiving increasing attention to enable eco-friendly textiles characterized by properties that allow for minimized consumption of detergents. Here we propose a coating-at-will (CAW) strategy to create an extra layer on top of a textile fabric to introduce stain resistance. The coated layer is based on conjugated polymers from lysozyme (Lyz) and zwitterionic poly(sulfobetaine methacrylate) (pSBMA), which, once exposed to the fabric, form a robust nanofilm on the surface. Remarkably, this hydrophilic layer exhibits excellent underwater superoleophobicity, and the coated fabrics can be cleaned simply with water without detergents. Optically transparent and biocompatible, this polymer nanofilm does not compromise the clothing comfort of the fabric and reduces the carbon footprint by more than 50% compared with detergents, according to a life cycle analysis. Moreover, our CAW strategy can be applied to the surfaces of various materials, including metals, glasses, plastics and ceramics, suggesting a versatile solution to the environmental risks posed by cleaning products.

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Fig. 1: Synthesis of PTL-pSBMA nanofilm and its rapid adhesion to substrates.
Fig. 2: Antifouling property of the PTL-pSBMA nanofilm.
Fig. 3: Surface modification of fabrics by PTL-pSBMA.
Fig. 4: Stain resistance of PTL-pSBMA-modified fabrics.
Fig. 5: CAW concept enabling regeneration of PTL-pSBMA for reuse.
Fig. 6: LCA of PTL-pSBMA.

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request. Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to P.Y. Source data are provided with this paper.


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P.Y. acknowledges funding support from the National Science Foundation through Distinguished Young Scholars (No. 52225301), the National Key R&D Program of China (Nos. 2020YFA0710400, 2020YFA0710402), the 111 Project (No. B14041), the Innovation Capability Support Program of Shaanxi (No. 2020TD-024) and the International Science and Technology Cooperation Program of Shaanxi Province (No. 2022KWZ-24). J. Zhao was funded by the National Key R&D Program of China (Nos. 2020YFA0710400 and 2020YFA0710403), the Fundamental Research Funds for Central Universities (No. GK202205017), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 51903146) and the Natural Science Foundation of Shaanxi Province (No. 2020JQ-420). Y.L. was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 51903147).

Author information

Authors and Affiliations



P.Y. managed the entire project, providing experimental space, expenditures, ideas, designs and article revisions. C.F. completed the experimental preparation, characterization, data processing, project design and article revision. Z.W. provided ideas for experiments. Y.G. assisted in materials characterization. J. Zhao and Y.L. revised the article. X. Zhou and R.Q. proofread the article. Y.P. and X. Zhang directed animal experiments. Y.Z. guided in situ AFM characterization. B.H., J. Zhang, J.W. and S.N. assisted with field experiments. F.F. assisted with image design. Q.T. and X.L. guided the LCA analysis.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Peng Yang.

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Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information

Nature Sustainability thanks Xi Yao, Simeon Stoyanov and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1 Basic characterization of the PTL-pSBMA nanofilm.

a, FTIR characterization of the Lyz-pSBMA and PTL-pSBMA powders and the corresponding deconvolution of the amide I regions. b,c, AFM (b) and TEM (c) images of the PTL-pSBMA coating. The scale bar of AFM is 160 nm and TEM is 100 nm. d, S2p XPS test on the surface of the PTL-pSBMA nanofilm. e, f, C/N ratio (e) and WCA (f) of the PTL-pSBMA coatings on various substrates. Error bars show the mean ± SD (n = 3).

Source data

Extended Data Fig. 2 Characterization of the antifouling properties of nanofilms.

a, Laser scanning confocal microscopy (LSCM) images showing the patterned adherence of S. aureus. Scale bars are 400 μm and 20 μm respectively. b, E. coli cultured on bare glass and PTL-pSBMA@glass. Scale bars, 20 μm. c,d, Field emission-scanning electron microscopy (FE-SEM) images showing S. aureus (c) and E. coli (d) adherence to a bare silicon wafer (left, scale bars, 3 μm) and the PTL-pSBMA nanofilm (right, scale bars, 10 μm). e, Optical microscopy images showing A. flavus adherence to the PS culture dish (left) and PTL-pSBMA nanofilm (right). Scale bars, 50 μm. f,g, FE-SEM images (f) showing the platelets adhered to the bare glass (left) and PTL-pSBMA nanofilm (right), and LSCM images (g) showing L929 cells adhered to the bare glass (left) and PTL-pSBMA nanofilm (right). Scale bars are 20 μm (f) and 300 μm (g) respectively.

Extended Data Fig. 3 Underwater superoleophobic properties of the PTL-pSBMA nanofilm.

a,b, Optical images showing PTL-pSBMA modified on various fabrics (silk, linen, polyester, flannel, vinylon, cotton, and modal) (a), and the corresponding underwater oil contact angle (OCA) (b). Scale bar, 2 cm.

Extended Data Fig. 4 The stain resistance of PTL-pSBMA-modified fabrics.

a, Optical images showing removal of grass stains from white polyester, vinylon, silk and cotton fabrics in the groups of blank, PTL-pSBMA, conventional DWL and LP. b,c, The corresponding detergency (b) and whiteness retention (c). Error bars show the mean ± SD (n = 3).

Source data

Extended Data Fig. 5 Stain resistance of PTL-pPSBMA-modified kitchenware.

a, Optical images showing the cleaning effect of PTL-pSBMA relative to DWL to remove chili oil from plastic, stainless steel, ceramic, and glass plates (a). b,c, The corresponding cleaning efficiency values (b, c). Error bars show the mean ± SD (n = 3).

Source data

Extended Data Fig. 6 Safety evaluation of PTL-pSBMA.

a,b, Haemolysis assay of PTL-pSBMA coated on a bandage. Optical photographs of positive (H2O), negative control (PBS), pristine bandage and PTL-pSBMA nanofilm (a, b). Error bars show the mean ± SD (n = 3). c, Cytotoxicity test of the PTL-pSBMA nanofilm. Error bars show the mean ± SD (n = 3). d, Mortality tests of zebrafish for PTL-pSBMA, LP and DWL. e,f, Photosynthetic rates of hydroponic lettuce treated with PTL-pSBMA, LP and DWL after 48 h of cultivation at 1 and 2 mg ml-1, respectively (e, f). Error bars show the mean ± SD (n = 3). g,h, Optical and H&E staining images showing mouse back contact with the blank and PTL-pSBMA@fabrics for 1–5 d (g,h). Scale bars are 2 mm (g) and 200 μm (h) respectively.

Source data

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Methods, Figs. 1–69 and Tables 1–3.

Supplementary Data 1


Supplementary Video 1

In situ AFM images of the film formation process of PTL-pSBMA solution on mica substrate.

Supplementary Video 2

Comparison of pristine silk and PTL-pSBMA@silk on cleaning chili oil.

Supplementary Video 3

Large-scale modification of fabrics by PTL-pSBMA and cleaning of chili oil stain.

Supplementary Video 4

PTL-pSBMA nanofilm cleans chili oil on dish surface.

Supplementary Video 5

Comparison of washing pristine dish and PTL-pSBMA@dish with water at a rate of 25 ml s−1.

Source data

Source Data Fig. 1

Unprocessed CD and T% and processed ANS data.

Source Data Fig. 2

Calculated QCM data.

Source Data Fig. 3

Unprocessed air and moisture permeability data.

Source Data Fig. 4

Calculated data for resistance to chili oil.

Source Data Fig. 5

Calculated data for coating regeneration cycles.

Source Data Fig. 6

Fig. 6b,c are unprocessed data, and the specific data can be viewed in the Supplementary Information. Fig. 6d,e are calculated data.

Source Data Extended Data Fig. 1

Extended Fig. 1a,d,f are unprocessed data, and Extended Data Fig. 1e is processed data.

Source Data Extended Data Fig. 4

Calculated data for resistance to grass stains.

Source Data Extended Data Fig. 5

Calculated data for resistance to chili oil.

Source Data Extended Data Fig. 6

Extended Data Fig. 6b–d are processed data, and Extended Data Fig. 6f are unprocessed data.

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Fu, C., Wang, Z., Gao, Y. et al. Sustainable polymer coating for stainproof fabrics. Nat Sustain 6, 984–994 (2023).

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