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Can i wash it?: The effect of washing conductive materials used in making textile based wearable electronic interfaces


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We explore the wash-ability of conductive materials used in creating traces and touch sensors in wearable electronic textiles. We perform a wash test measuring change in resistivity after each of 10 cycles of washing for conductive traces constructed using two types of conductive thread, conductive ink, and combinations of thread and ink.
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Can I Wash It?: The Effect of Washing Conductive Materials Used
in Making Textile Based Wearable Electronic Interfaces
Clint Zeagler
Georgia Institute of
Scott Gilliland
Georgia Institute of
Stephen Audy
Georgia Institute of
Thad Starner
Georgia Institute of
We explore the wash-ability of conductive materials used in
creating traces and touch sensors in wearable electronic
textiles. We perform a wash test measuring change in
resistivity after each of 10 cycles of washing for conductive
traces constructed using two types of conductive thread,
conductive ink, and combinations of thread and ink.
Author Keywords
Electronic Textile Wash Test, Conductive Materials Wash Test.
ACM Classification Keywords
H.5.m. Information interfaces and presentation (e.g., HCI):
Since the beginning of wearable computing and technology
embedded clothing, one question that consistently is asked
of designers and researchers is “Can I wash it?” In
developing wearable computers and functional clothing, the
notion of wash-ability is complex. For example, in Post’s
Jacket with a capacitive fabric keyboard [7] we can ask the
question of wash-ability across a number of different
components. Is the micro-controller washable? Is the circuit
board washable? Are the wires washable? Is the embroidery
washable? Is the denim jacket itself washable? Are the
connections between the components washable? When
these different components are washed what happens to
them; how do they change; and does the device still work at
an acceptable level after the washing? This paper focuses
on the wash-ability of some conductive materials
commonly used in making textile based electrical traces and
capacitive touch sensitive interfaces.
There are many ways to wash clothes. For the purpose of
our testing we decided to use a standard upright agitator
washing machine GE Spacemaker Model WSM2700
HAWWW and a standard detergent. one ounce of All 2x
Ultra detergent is used each wash cycle. Lee et al. explain
the variable nature of the mechanical washing actions [6];
however, by using the same water fill level and same cycle
time, we tried to standardize the mechanical aspects of the
washing cycle as much as possible. All washes were made
in warm water, at medium load, and a regular wash cycle.
We chose to wash on the warm cycle because we wanted to
use a harsher condition, hoping that if the conductive
materials withstood a warm wash cycle they would be more
likely to withstand a cold wash cycle. We also chose the
regular agitation and wash cycle because these would be
harsher conditions than a gentle cycle. We chose two types
of conductive thread to test; the first is a coated conductive
thread [2]. The Shieldex size 33 thread is completely
conductive on the outside surface of the thread and is very
useful when embroidering interfaces [4,8] because, as the
thread sews over itself, it increases the conductive surface
and lowers electrical resistance. One downside to the
Shieldex size 33 thread is that the conductive coating on the
thread makes it hard to regulate the tension of sewing and
embroidery machines properly, and it is more difficult to
use within industrial machines when working at industrial
speeds. We also chose to test Shieldex’s size 40 thread [3],
which is a 2 ply mixed yarn consisting of both conductive
and nonconductive polyester. The advantage of the
Shieldex size 40 yarn is that it runs much better through
sewing and embroidery machines, but it can not be sewn
over itself to reduce resistance. As we also wished to
explore how to best combine conductive ink and conductive
embroidery to create the most robust interfaces, we also
tested the effects of washing on combinations of conductive
We examine the following 12 test conditions:
Less Conductive Thread (Shieldex size 40 22/7 PET sewing thread)
1. Single trace*
2. Double trace**
3. Single trace under conductive ink (sewn first and ink printed on top of
trace and then cured)
4. Single trace on top of conductive ink (ink printed first and thread sewn
on top of cured ink)
5. Double trace under conductive ink
More Conductive Thread (Shieldex size 33 117/17 sewing thread)
6. Single trace
7. Double trace
8. Single trace under conductive ink
9. Single trace on top of conductive ink
10. Double trace under conductive ink
Conductive Ink
11. Ink alone
12. Ink covered with Plastisol***
* Single trace = A single straight sewn line of thread
** Double trace = A single straight sewn line of thread double back over
*** Plastisol Ink is a standard type of screen printing ink. It is a pigment
suspended in a binder which cures into a plastic after being heated.
Each test condition was applied onto a cotton twill swatch.
The swatches were washed for 10 wash cycles. The graph
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Copyright © 2013 ACM 978-1-4503-2127-3/13/09…$15.00.
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(Figure 3) shows the average resistance change from each
test condition over 10 wash cycles. Where the test condition
lines on the graph terminate indicate that at that wash cycle
either the trace was broken or the resistance became so high
as to effectively render the trace useless. As this is an
average graph, some traces might still have been working,
but the majority of the traces failed where the lines
A. B.
Figure 1. A comparison of conductive thread sewn under the
conductive ink trace (A) and sewn over the ink trace (B).
Notice how the ink saturates the thread and fills in the fabric
punctures when placed on top of the thread.
Test Condition 12 conductive ink under plastisol ink.
The plastisol ink performed very well at preventing the
conductive ink from being degraded. After three wash
cycles, when it became clear that the increase of resistance
of the exposed conductive inkpads was increasing
significantly faster than that of the ink protected by
plastisol, we began measurements at the edges of the
plastisol as well as from the ends. Clearly, the plastisol
protects the conductive ink and prevents the increase of
resistance we find with uncovered conductive ink. In
addition, a single or double trace of fully conductive thread
coated with conductive ink seems much more robust than
other alternatives.
A. B.
Figure 2A. 12 Swatch B11 conductive ink Figure 2B. Swatch
B12 conductive ink under plastisol ink
We realize that there are currently insulated threads on the
market that might withstand washing conditions better then
the threads we chose to test here. However, currently
insulated threads can be very difficult to connect with
components in a durable way. We chose to test these types
of sewing threads because they are widely available and
widely used, and connect easily to components. When
designing a textile with traces used to carry electricity, we
suggest using the thicker, more conductive thread [6]. If
minimal resistance is desired, add conductive ink on top of
the thread. When screen-printing a trace, we suggest using a
more flexible conductive ink [1] and covering the trace with
insulating plastisol ink in all areas not needed for capacitive
sensing (see Figure 2). For a more comprehensive report
with detailed findings please view a full GVU techreport
This work was supported in part by a grant from ETRI and a Georgia
Institute of Technology GVU Center Seed Grant.
1. AG-510 SILVER CONDUCTIVE INK, Conductive Compounds,
[accessed: April 7, 2013]
2. Conductive Sewing Thread Size 33, , [accessed: April 7,
3. Conductive Sewing Thread Size 40, , [accessed: April 7, 2013]
4. S. Gilliland. N. Komor. T. Starner. and C. Zeagler. The Textile Interface
Swatchbook: Creating Graphical User Interface-like Widgets with Conductive
Embroidery. In International Symposium on Wearable Computers ISWC, pages
18–25, Seoul, South Korea, 2010. IEEE.
5. N. Komor, S. Gilliland, J. Clawson, M. Bhardwaj, M. Garg, C. Zeagler, and T.
Starner. Is it gropable? - assessing the impact of mobility on textile interfaces. In
International Symposium on Wearable Computers ISWC, pages 71–74,Linz,
Austria, 2009. IEEE.
6. A.Lee, M Seo, S. Yang, J. Koh, and H. Kim. 2008 . The Effects of Mechanical
Actions on Washing Efficiency. Fibers and Polymers (2008) Vol. 9, No. 1, pages
7. E. Post, M. Orth, P. Russo, and N. Gershenfeld. E-broidery: Design and
fabrication of textile-based computing. IBM Systems Journal, 39(3):840–850,
8. C. Zeagler, S. Gilliland, H. Profita, & T. Starner. (2012, June). Textile Interfaces:
Embroidered Jog-Wheel, Beaded Tilt Sensor, Twisted Pair Ribbon, and Sound
Sequins. In International Symposium on Wearable Computers (ISWC), 2012 16th
(pp. 60-63). IEEE
9. C. Zeagler, S. Gilliland, S. Audy, and T. Starner. Can I Wash It? GVU Technical
Report ; GIT-GVU-13-01
Figure 3 – Averaged results of resistance changes on 10 traces of each type over each of ten wash cycles. Red X denotes where the
trace failed or the resistance became so high to render the trace ineffective.
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ISWC’13, September 9–12, 2013, Zurich, Switzerland
... They reason that the swelling of the hydrophilic cotton substrate, as well as bending occurring during washing, are responsible. In some samples, the printed ink is not only cracked, but also flaking off [55]. Kim et al. wash aramid textiles coated with a graphene and polyurethane (PU) composite. ...
... Similarly, the type of metal used for litz wires in hybrid yarns will influence the washing results according to research conducted by Kivanc et al. [31]. Zeagler et al. show that, for different yarns with the same type of metallization, the one with a higher initial conductivity will withstand washing better [55]. Hardy et al. conclude that the properties of the copper wire used to produce their e-yarns has significant influence on the washability [22]. ...
... Kazani et al. and Yokus et al. also improve the washability of printed conductive structures by adding a protective TPU layer [29,54,67]. The embroidered tracks in Zeagler et al.'s study show better washing performance with an overprinted layer of non-conductive polymer based ink [55]. When testing conductive yarns, Baribina et al. find that a silicone coating yields better washing results than a nano coating, but both are preferable to uncoated yarn [12]. ...
Full-text available
E-textiles, hybrid products that incorporate electronic functionality into textiles, often need to withstand washing procedures to ensure textile typical usability. Yet, the washability—which is essential for many e-textile applications like medical or sports due to hygiene requirements—is often still insufficient. The influence factors for washing damage in textile integrated electronics as well as common weak points are not extensively researched, which makes a targeted approach to improve washability in e-textiles difficult. As a step towards reliably washable e-textiles, this review bundles existing information and findings on the topic: a summary of common failure modes in e-textiles brought about by washing as well as influencing parameters that affect the washability of e-textiles. The findings of this paper can be utilized in the development of e-textile systems with an improved washability.
... 19 After washing, a decrease in the conductance of conductive thread and yarn can be noticed. 20 The process of washing clothing after use is necessary and unavoidable, and therefore electrical components integrated into clothes must either be waterproof, through the use of encapsulation 21 with a more permanent connection sown into the clothing, 22,23 or detachable. 23 Detachability enables integration with various types of non-textile-based, conventional electronic components, which can be taken off when the need for washing arises. ...
... The proposed design, presented in this paper, gives a perspective on detachable interconnects hitherto not explored in detail in the current literature. 1,[11][12][13][14][15][16][17][18][19][20][21][22][23][24][25]27 The conditions of washing, the body temperature effect, sweating and bending during movement can be associated with relatively harsh conditions for which special types of sensors ought to be used. This applies to sensors that would be integrated into shirts and worn for long periods of time. ...
As textile electronics has undergone a boom in the past few decades, especially the sensing aspect, methods of modular connectivity of these components with classical electrical components and printed circuit boards must be broadened. This study focuses on the aforementioned problem, as well as testing the electrical properties of conductive textile lines through a series of experiments. Fabrication of the conductive structure was done in two parts: embroidery of the conductive threads onto cloths, as well as designing and three-dimensional printing of connectors that will be used for bridging and making a stable connection with pin-based systems. A valid connection between the textile endings and pins has not yet been tested, and is the main focus of this paper, aside from testing outside influences on the designed textile structure. Afterwards, the developed prototype was tested through a realistic scenario that consisted of body temperature validations and the application of artificial sweat, as well as the quantification of the effects of washing on the electrical properties of the device. The outcome shows changes in the impedance modulus after washing. However, after application of artificial sweat, the nature of the parallel wire connections changes significantly, as the sweat acts as a resistive contact between the two wires. This examination can contribute to the field of wearable electronics through the proposed elements (conductive lines and connectors) of future electronic circuits in the concept of internet of bodies.
... This cluster contains testing conducted in household washing machines (top-loading vertical axis and front-loading horizontal axis) without a standard as a guideline. Testing parameters for each of the sources can be found in Table 5. [57][58][59][60][61][62][63][64][65][66][67][68][69][70][71][72][73][74][75] The tested e-textiles are mainly conductive textiles or sensors, electrodes, antennas, and RFID tags made from conductive textile material without further components. Janczak et al. test printed electroluminescent displays. ...
... The use of liquid detergent is more common than in standard-based testing. 57,60,65,67,68,73,75 As not all sources provide information about detergent use, this number might be even higher. Air-drying is predominant; a tumble dryer is used only on two occasions. ...
Full-text available
Washability is seen as one of the main obstacles that stands in the way of a wider market success of e-textile products. So far, there are no standardized methods for wash testing of e-textiles and no protocols to comparably assess the washability of tested products. Thus, different e-textiles that are deemed equally washable by their developers might present with very different ranges of reliability after repeated washing. This paper presents research into current test practices in the absence of e-textile-specific standards. Different testing methods are compared and evaluated and the need for standardized testing, giving e-textile developers the tools to comparably communicate and evaluate their products' washability, is emphasized.
... As a result, damage can occur, which destroys the characteristic functionality of the E-textile. Zeagler et al. studied the washability of silver ink-printed cotton as a conductive material (without protective layer) commonly used to create tactile traces and sensors in wearable textile electronics (Zeagler, Gilliland, Audy, & Starner, 2013). After six wash cycles, the silver-based printed conductor tracks show cracks and flaking. ...
Printed electronics (PE) is one of the most dynamic technologies in the world. It proposes low-cost electronic network production in flexible substrates by numerous printing techniques, (screen printing, gravure, offset, flexographic, and inkjet printing), used in various industries. In PE, ink pigments are replaced by metallic particles or precursors that transmit electrical conductivity to the printed patterns such as carbon, polymers and conductive pigments. Conductive inks play an important role in printed electronics, and despite the number of conductive ink types available on the market, there are still issues to be addressed. Some of these restrictions include the use of toxic chemical reagents and solvents and complicated manufacturing protocols, which often make the industrialization of conductive inks an even more distant goal. In particular, conductive inks based on silver nanoparticles, Graphene and PEDOT:PSS are widely studied thanks to their high electrical conductivity. On the other hand, there is still work to be done to show the interest of inks based on phthalocyanine pigments, in particular copper phthalocyanine. Nevertheless, problems related to stability, dispersion and annealing temperature often limit the application of these four types of fillers. In this review, we present general information on available conductive fillers used for the formulation of conductive inks, focusing on metallic particles, carbon fillers, pigments and polymers. The influence and technical requirements of the regularly used printing techniques, as well as the post-processing treatments to achieve the targeted performance in the obtained inks have been discussed. In addition, the surface characteristics of the various types of extensible and flexible substrates used in portable electronics are described. Moreover, some types of printed flexible electronic components as well as notable applications of electronic textiles in various sectors are exhibited. Next, the major challenges for the manufacturing of printed flexible electronics and recommendations for future research are discussed in this review
... Similar results to [2] were obtained in [3] for a nanowire-coated nylon thread, whose resistance remained relatively constant after five repeated washing in a liquid detergent. While in [4], the washability of conductive threads used in constructing traces and touch sensors in wearable electronic systems was also explored. In [5], a stitched transmission line constructed using a sewing machine, with the aid of a novel presser foot was proposed for broadband operation using the idea of a braided coaxial cable. ...
Full-text available
In this paper the washability of a stitched transmission line is been studied. The aim is to determine the deterioration of the frequency dependence of the scattering parameters of the stitched transmission line after subjecting it to washing cycles using a domestic washing machine. The DC resistance of the stitched transmission line was measured before and after wash with results indicating an increase in the DC resistance from 16.9 Ω to 22.8 Ω after washing the stitched transmission line. The increase in DC resistance is due to the decrease in conductive path of the stitched transmission line as a result of the abrasion impacts in the washing machine leading to increased number of fissures and defects on the stitched transmission line. The propagation characteristics of the stitched transmission line were investigated using CST Microwave Studio Suite® and measurements on the stitched transmission line before and after wash was carried out using an Anritsu MS46524A 7GHz Network Analyser for a frequency range of 0.04 to 4GHz, with results demonstrating that the stitched transmission line will make a good candidate for wearable applications.
... An interesting point in the production of not only prototypic, but really practically usable breathing sensors is their washability [57]. Berglund et al. investigated the effect of washing on textile stretching and bending sensors which were tested as pure textile sensors or insulated by a fusible polymer film [58]. ...
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Biosignals often have to be detected in sports or for medical reasons. Typical biosignals are pulse and ECG (electrocardiogram), breathing, blood pressure, skin temperature, oxygen saturation, bioimpedance, etc. Typically, scientists attempt to measure these biosignals noninvasively, i.e., with electrodes or other sensors, detecting electric signals, measuring optical or chemical information. While short-time measurements or monitoring of patients in a hospital can be performed by systems based on common rigid electrodes, usually containing a large amount of wiring, long-term measurements on mobile patients or athletes necessitate other equipment. Here, textile-based sensors and textile-integrated data connections are preferred to avoid skin irritations and other unnecessary limitations of the monitored person. In this review, we give an overview of recent progress in textile-based electrodes for electrical measurements and new developments in textile-based chemical and other sensors for detection and monitoring of biosignals.
... Projects like the Levis' and Google Jacquard Commuter Jacket show the need for non-visual interactions with textiles on-the-go. We built the system for this study employing embroidered textile interface techniques explored previously [10,41,42]. These techniques use both conductive thread [33] and nonconductive thread, precisely sewn by embroidery machines to create textural fabric surfaces that can act as capacitance sensors for recognizing finger touches. ...
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On-body input interfaces that can be used accurately without visual attention could have a wide range of applications where vision is needed for a primary task: emergency responders, pilots, astronauts, and people with vision impairments could benefit by making interfaces accessible. This paper describes a between-participant study (104 participants) to determine how well users can locate e-textile interface discrete target touch points on the forearm without visual attention. We examine whether the addition of active touch embroidery and passive touch nubs (metal snaps with vibro-tactile stimulation) helps in locating input touch points accurately. We found that touch points towards the middle of the interface on the forearm were more difficult to touch accurately than at the ends. We also found that the addition of vibro-tactile stimulation aids in the accuracy of touch interactions by over 9% on average, and by almost 17% in the middle of the interface.
... The embedded into the textile garments electronic devices are the only that are subject to special care and maintenance together with the textile layer itself, the most important of which is the washing. Washability is the most desirable feature of the wearable electronic components in terms of the market requirements [ 6 ]. ...
Full-text available
The role of the smart textiles with embedded electronic components is continuously increasing. As the smart textiles involve conductive threads that are incorporated in the structure of a textile layer or the construction design of a garment, their characteristics, selection and long-life use are of particular importance. However, during the incorporation and maintenance of the smart textile, the conductivity of the threads changes. Our study aimed to develop and test a method for evaluation of the conductivity decay of threads at the design stage of the smart textile. The conductivity was measured by using different preliminary load on the threads and using different longitude of the thread. The method was applied for both single threads and threads already embroidered in a knitted textile layer. One, three and five cycles of washing were applied to evaluate the threads' conductivity decay. The results obtained showed that the method can be successfully used for preliminary assessment of the applicability of a specific conductive thread for incorporation into a smart textile item with wearable electronic components.
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Working or WERKing on a wearable technology project in a transdisciplinary group can be an effective way of learning new skills and collaboration techniques. This paper describes a case study of running a wearable technology group project within an undergraduate course entitled Wearable Technology and Society. The computational media students in the class collaborated with outside performance artists (drag queens and a street dancer) to create interactive performance garments. Design methods such as the use of boundary objects aided in communication of ideas and cooperation across disciplines and cultural barriers. The requirement that the interactive garment function appropriately in a real performance lent urgency and gravity to the experience, motivating cohesive and expedited problem solving in the transdisciplinary group. The use of these methods on a project with real world outcomes and consequences facilitated an authentic learning experience for the students involved.
The demand for wearable electronics has stimulated the rapid growth of smart electronic textiles (e-textiles). Many significant advancements have been made in the functionality of e-textiles in the past decade. Although durability is a significant concern for the commercial success of e-textiles, it has received the least amount of attention compared to other performance characteristics. This chapter discusses the wash durability of e-textiles and their constituent components produced by various techniques. The types of conductive materials used for producing e-textiles are divided into broad categories and their resistance to washing is discussed. Basic data and the most recent information on the wash durability of yarns, fabrics, and devices are provided. This chapter concludes by looking at available standard washing procedures for conventional textiles which could be modified for the development of wash standards for e-textiles.
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Highly durable, flexible, and even washable multilayer electronic circuitry can be constructed on textile substrates, using conductive yarns and suitably packaged components. In this paper we describe the development of e-broidery (electronic embroidery, i.e., the patterning of conductive textiles by numerically controlled sewing or weaving processes) as a means of creating computationally active textiles. We compare textiles to existing flexible circuit substrates with regard to durability, conformability, and wearability. We also report on: some unique applications enabled by our work; the construction of sensors and user interface elements in textiles; and a complete process for creating flexible multilayer circuits on fabric substrates. This process maintains close compatibility with existing electronic components and design tools, while optimizing design techniques and component packages for use in textiles.
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The Textile Interface Swatchbook demonstrates how conductive embroidery can render graphical user interface-like (GUI) widgets on fabric. Such widgets might be used to control mobile electronics such as a music player, mobile phone, or projected display. At present, six swatches have been created for the swatchbook: pleat, menu, rocker, multi-touch gesture, zipper, and proximity. The three most diverse and original are discussed here. In addition, we develop a hybrid resistive-capacitive touch sensing technique designed to be more tolerant to the flexing typical of fabric. We hope to develop the Textile Interface Swatchbook into a reference tool for textile interfaces.
The role of mechanical action on the washing process was studied. The experimental apparatus was designed to simulate each mechanical action such as the hydrodynamic flow action, the fabric flexing action, the abrasion action during washing process. The influence of mechanical action strongly depends on the property and attached state of each soil. The abrasion action was found as the most effective mechanical action for soil removal.
  • A Lee
  • S Seo
  • J Yang
  • H Koh
  • Kim
A.Lee, M Seo, S. Yang, J. Koh, and H. Kim. 2008. The Effects of Mechanical Actions on Washing Efficiency. Fibers and Polymers (2008) Vol. 9, No. 1, pages 101-106.
Can I Wash It? GVU Technical Report
  • C Zeagler
  • S Gilliland
  • S Audy
  • T Starner
C. Zeagler, S. Gilliland, S. Audy, and T. Starner. Can I Wash It? GVU Technical Report ; GIT-GVU-13-01