Machine washable smart t-shirt can follow your heart

Forget smartwatches! Scientists develop machine-washable smart T-SHIRT that monitors your heart better than a chest strap

  • Experts sew nanotube fibers into sportswear to monitor the wearer’s heart rate
  • The small fibers look like cotton and can be sewn with a standard machine
  • Textiles can be machine washed and stretched repeatedly without degradation

Scientists claim to have the solution for health enthusiasts who don’t like wearing an ‘uncomfortable’ smartwatch.

The experts, based at Rice University in Texas, have created a smart, machine-washable t-shirt that can follow your heart.

Using a standard sewing machine, they sewed ultra-thin carbon nanotube fibres, which look just like cotton yarn, into normal sportswear.

The carbon nanotube monitors the wearer’s heart rate and creates a continuous electrocardiogram (ECG), which records the heart’s rhythm and electrical activity.

Scientists have developed a machine-washable smart T-shirt that guards your heart. It works by taking a continuous electrocardiogram of the wearer and has been proven to give more accurate results in tests than commercially sold chest strap monitors


Carbon nanotubes, or CNTs, are cylindrical molecules made up of coiled sheets of single-layer carbon atoms or graphene.

CNTs have applications in flexible electronics, water filtration, antennas for 5G networks and energy storage.

Nanotube fibers are soft and flexible, and garments containing them can be machine washed.

Fibers woven into fabric could also be used to embed antennas or LEDs, according to the researchers.

Small adjustments to the fiber can also eventually allow clothing to control vital signs, exertion or respiratory rate.

“Due to the combination of conductivity, good skin contact, biocompatibility and softness, carbon nanotubes are a natural part of wearables,” said Rice University engineer Matteo Pasquali.

The fibers are just as conductive as metal threads, but washable, comfortable and much less likely to break when a body is in motion, the researchers said.

In experiments, the shirt they were sewn on was better at collecting data than a standard chest strap monitor taking live measurements.

Waves of the fibers can be sewn in a zigzag formation onto a piece of stretchy fabric to form an electrode, to connect electronics such as Bluetooth transmitters to transmit data to a smartphone.

The zigzag stitch pattern allows the fabric to stretch without breaking.

ECGs obtained by the electrodes of carbon nanotube fibers were comparable to signals obtained with commercial electrodes, according to the scientists.

When combined with commercial medical electrode monitors, the carbon nanotube shirt gave slightly better EKGs.

Rice University graduate student Lauren Taylor shows off a shirt with carbon nanotube thread that constantly monitors the wearer's heart

Rice University graduate student Lauren Taylor shows off a shirt with carbon nanotube thread that constantly monitors the wearer’s heart

The only condition is that the shirt on which the fibers are sewn must be tight and tight against the chest.

This means that a loose-fitting T-shirt that blows up during your run wouldn’t work.

As long as it’s not too loose, the fiber’s zigzag pattern can be adjusted according to how much a shirt or other fabric is likely to stretch.

The team is now working with the Texas Heart Institute to find out how to maximize skin contact.

“In future studies, we will focus on using denser pieces of carbon nanotube wires so that there is more surface area to contact the skin,” says Rice graduate student Lauren Taylor.

Taylor with a standard sewing machine, which can be used to sew the threads onto a form-fitting garment

Taylor with a standard sewing machine, which can be used to sew the threads onto a form-fitting garment

The project stems from work in the lab of chemical and biomolecular engineer Matteo Pasquali at the Brown School of Engineering in Rhode Island, who introduced carbon nanotubes in 2013.

But the original nanotube filaments, about 22 microns wide, were too thin for a sewing machine.

Taylor said a rope maker was used to make a sewable thread — essentially three bundles of seven filaments each, woven to a size roughly equivalent to regular thread.

“We worked with someone who sells little machines designed to make ropes for model ships,” says Taylor, who initially tried weaving the thread by hand, with limited success. “He was able to turn us into a medium-sized device that does the same thing.”

The invention is further described in the Journal of the American Chemical Society Nano letters.


Smart fabrics are fabrics that contain new or innovative components that benefit the wearer.

Smart fabrics, or smart fabrics, can respond to external stimuli, such as heat, chemicals or magnetism.

They don’t necessarily have an electronic component.

The Pratt Institute in the US has said that smart fabrics have the ability to “communicate, transform, conduct energy and even grow.”

Smart fabrics differ from e-fabrics (electronic fabrics), which typically combine fibers with electronics.

E-fabrics can contain lights, batteries or small computer chips.