How Fabric Dries

A line full of drying clothes hanging in the sun.

How do damp clothes dry in air? Such a seemingly simple question has vexed physicists for years because it’s extremely difficult to observe what happens inside the cloth fibers. Now researchers have used magnetic resonance techniques to track the material’s drying process.

Inside wet fabric, water exists in one of two states: it can be bound to the fabric fibers through hydrogen bonds or it circulates as a vapor in the voids between. Before this study, scientists had no way of confirming the relationship between these two states. Models simply assumed that most of the drying took place as water vapor left the fabric.

In their measurements, the team watched textiles dry in open-topped containers exposed to dry air. With their magnetic resonance technique, they could track the bound water in the textile over time. They found that the model that fit their data the best is one in which the bound water and water vapor reach equilibrium instantaneously. (Image credit: K. Cao; research credit: X. Ma et al.; via APS Physics; submitted by Kam-Yung Soh)

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