Read: Emasculated men refuse to do chores—except cooking
That doesn’t mean some tech companies aren’t looking for marketable solutions to America’s cleaning problem. A new crop of start-ups promises to make laundry a little less burdensome with textiles that resist getting dirty. But their products still have limitations that portend something different: Living a human life is generally kind of gross, and the work required to keep filth at bay probably can’t be eliminated.
When it comes to cleanliness, beds are a nightmare. Under ideal circumstances, humans spend a full third of their life wrapped up in their bedding, which means people shed a lot of dirt, oil, dead skin, hair products, sweat, and (sorry) drool onto it while they’re asleep. That’s why fresh sheets feels so good and old sheets feel, and sometimes smell, so gross: They accumulate a lot of gunk, and very quickly. Most experts recommend you swap your bedding once a week, but for a family of four, that means stripping, laundering, and remaking three beds every weekend. Sheets are ripe for disruption.
When the textile start-up Silvon launched in 2014 under the name Sleep Clean, it promised to bring one of the most consistent pleasures of luxury hotels to everyday life: perennially fresh sheets without personal effort. It now makes both bedding and towels that use one of the oldest, most reliable antimicrobial technologies known to man: pure silver, woven into 7 percent of the company’s thread, ready to kill any bacteria that might scurry off your person while you’re passed out or drying off.
Silvon is one of a cluster of businesses that have incorporated similar technology into their products in the past five years. Miracle also makes silver-infused bedding and towels, with a promise that you’ll do two-thirds less laundry. Skin Laundry, a brand of skin-care products, recently added silver-washed pillowcases to its lineup. Lululemon launched its Silverescent line of antimicrobial workout gear in 2014. Mack Weldon lines its men’s underwear in silver-infused fabric. All these companies make similar claims: Their products eliminate acne- and odor-causing bacteria so your stuff stays cleaner, longer.
It’s not totally clear what being “clean” means when any particular brand promises it. The word is an of-the-moment marketing term that’s used to describe everything from food products to skincare ingredients. In most cases, it just refers to an arbitrary, implied naturalness that doesn’t tell consumers much of anything about a product’s safety or effectiveness. Clean is in the eye of the beholder. In the case of silver-infused textiles, “clean” means bacteria-free; it’s the Purell of fabric.
Read: The decline of the American laundromat
But anyone who’s used hand sanitizer knows that there are still plenty of reasons to regularly wash your hands the old-fashioned way, which is a limitation that extends to so-called self-cleaning fabrics. Jay Flynn, a Silvon representative, says that’s why the company decided to walk back some of its early rhetoric. “One of our first slogans was ‘Sheets get dirty, ours don’t.’ But of course they get dirty,” he says. “If you spill wine or pizza, of course there’s going to be a stain.” As a result, he says, Silvon has shifted its focus to acne prevention. “When you’re spending all this time and money on skin care, you want to make sure you’re at least putting your face, night after night, on a clean pillowcase,” Flynn says.