Whether you have a dishwasher or not, washing dishes is a Sisyphean task. You eat, wash, and by the next meal, there they are again. But Tomorrow Machine, a Swedish design studio, says they may have a solution: Self-washing dishes made with a coating that makes food slip away.
In development by researchers at KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, the coating mimics a lotus leaf. If water hits a leaf, it beads up and rolls away thanks to the plant's bumpy nano-level structure, taking any dirt along with it. The coating from KTH works the same way, using a wax dissolved at a high pressure and temperature.
“It repels water, dirt, and oil almost like a magnet, so you don’t have to use anything to clean it off,” says Hanna Billqvist, one of the designers at Tomorrow Machine.
After eating, you can just tip one of the specially coated plates over a trash can, and that’s it, she says. Besides giving you a little more free time, they also claim it's better for the environment: Washing dishes can use thousands of gallons a year of water, and heating the water up also takes a surprising amount of energy. Someone who’s washing by hand with the water flowing can have the same carbon footprint as someone driving several miles in a typical car. The new dishes also eliminate the need for soap.
It’s not the first coating to have these properties, certain fabrics and even paint do the same thing. But they hope it will be the first that can be used with food. “The technology is being developed to be as sustainable and chemical-free as possible and more durable, which means that we can use it for purposes like the plate in the future,” says Billqvist.
The underlying material is actually made from wood fiber. The designers, along with the research company , first started thinking about tableware when the Swedish Forest Industries Federation—intent on finding new uses for wood—asked them to imagine new, futuristic products that could be made from tree-based cellulose.
Cellulose, it turns out, can be processed so that it’s just as hard as ceramics but won’t break if it’s dropped. As they first researched ways to make new plates and cups from the material, the designers also learned about the water-repellent coating and realized they could add it to the design.
For now, the coating is still under development by scientists, who hope to have the product ready soon.