They are already known as a girl's best friend. Now it seems diamonds could soon be her favourite stain remover, too.Chemists added small amounts of nanodiamonds – pieces of carbon less than a ten-thousandth of the diameter of a human hair – to commercial washing powders.
They found the diamonds made the detergent much more effective at removing dirt and grease, even at 15C.
In one case, double the amount of fat was removed in a 25C wash when diamond dust was used. researchers believe the diamonds' rough surface could help to rub grease and fat from materials.They hope the discovery could make it possible to wash clothes effectively at lower temperatures.
A team of experts led by Dr Andrew Marsh, from the Department of Chemistry at Warwick University, in conjunction with colleagues from Aston University in Birmingham made the discovery in a project funded by the UK Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and washing powder manufacturer Proctor and Gamble PLC.
Research leader Dr Andrew Marsh said: 'These findings tackle a problem that forces consumers to wash some of their laundry a between 60 and 90C more than 80 times a year.
'Even with modern biological washing powders, some fats and dirt cannot be removed at the lower temperatures many prefer to use for their weekly wash.
'In one case, double the amount of fat was removed at 25C when diamond dust was used with the detergent.
'Even at temperatures as low as 15C, hard to remove fat was shifted.'
The full findings are published in the scientific journal of the American Chemical Society, Applied Materials and Interfaces.
Nanodiamonds are created by exploding synthetically produced diamonds to create miniscule particles that are not much bigger than the size of a DNA molecule.
In tests, they were added in very small amounts to detergents in commercial washing powders.
Dr Marsh added: 'The five nanometre diamonds changed the way detergents behaved at 25C, doubling the amount of fat removed.'Even at temperatures as low as 15C, otherwise hard-to remove fat could be solubilised from a test surface.'The physical and chemical insight gained paves the way for future research.'
Nanodiamonds can retail at around £30 a gram, but with mass market use, the price may fall to less than £5 a gram, it is thought.
As a typical laundry powder uses 100g per cycle and nanodiamonds make up a 0.1 per cent additive in a typical load, it could cost around 50p per wash, but scientists believe bulk buying could lower the price so that the consumer pays only around 5p extra for the diamonds to put a sparkle in their wash at lower temperatures.
A spokesman for Proctor and Gamble said: 'We are always looking at innovative ways to improve our laundry products, especially their performance at lower temperatures which we know has such a positive impact on the environment.
'We've made great progress already and this research provides an interesting insight into a novel approach that could take this even further, but it's very early days.'