Could Nanotechnology Someday Replace Toilet Paper?


The “throne room” is a great place for coming up with new ideas.  Sitting on the throne (toilet) recently, I was moved to consider that most basic commodity of civilization, toilet paper.  Surely, like deodorants and hot showers, this is one of the key enablers of our civilized lifestyle.  As time progresses, however, this might change.  Might we someday find that the manufacture of toilet paper uses more resources and energy than can be economically justified?  What will we do then?  Can nanotechnology provide an answer?

How would nanotech toilet paper work?  As I thought more on this, I considered the possibility that you might someday push a button on the toilet, and it would spray a fine mist of nanobots onto your posterior.  The tiny machines (perhaps bio-machines like tiny “terminators”) would go to work moving around, identifying different microscopic objects and molecules, and breaking down the molecules they were created or trained to dissolve.  The resulting smaller molecules could be lifted from one’s skin and dropped, possibly with the now-exhausted nanobot hanging on, to fall into the toilet and be disposed.  Some nanobots could specifically identify viruses and bacteria and attack them, effectively disinfecting the area.

Will nanotechnology someday provide better cleaners and disinfectants?  This got me thinking about other uses for such nanobot sprays.  I foresaw an operating room where the nurse puffs a small cloud of nanobots over a tray of instruments, on which they descend.  Then the nurse takes a small remote controller from a pocket and pushes a few buttons to send commands to the nanobots.  The tiny machines then crawl around finding living and non-living contaminants and destroying them, thereby sterilizing the instruments beyond the abilities of anything except perhaps a complete immersion in alcohol.  Since each one can tell where the other nanobots are by their radio signals, they can spread out evenly across the tray and ensure, as much as possible, that all the area has been covered and sterilized.  After a few minutes the nurse pushes another button on the remote control and the nanobots shut off, ready for disposal and completely inert, as are the microorganisms and other contaminants they dissolved. 

Could nanotechnology also assist in another of civilizations’ major achievements: deodorants?  A stick or bottle of deodorant could contain a concentration of nanobots.  Once the deodorant is applied the nanobots can be activated, either by remote control or via automatic sensing of human skin oils.  Then the nanobots go about their work, identifying and dismembering odor-causing bacteria, for example, to block the creation of the odiferous compounds that can make one unsavory and unfit for close proximity to other humans.  Perhaps the odorous molecules themselves could be dismembered before escaping into the air.

The economic case, essentially the cost issue, will define whether and where nanotechnology will be used.  It is hard to see how the manufacture and provision of a large number of nanobots could require less resources and energy than a chemical disinfectant, for example.  The future is hard to foresee, however.   Studies and experimentation might eventually show that nanotechnology disinfectants could be made more effective than a chemical bath, thereby reducing risk of infection during surgery, as well as patient and insurance costs.  The use of nanobots might also reduce pollution associated with production of disinfectants, and provide other benefits not yet thought of which would make such technologies economically viable.

It’s a big universe out there, and the creativity of humans can never be discounted.
As always, I welcome your comments.

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2 responses to “Could Nanotechnology Someday Replace Toilet Paper?

  1. You’re not thinking big enough. Why couldn’t we just have nanomachines inside our body that turn all solid waste into liquid waste (to be urinated) or gaseous waste (to be exhaled)?

    You should first try to solve a problem by preventing that problem from occurring in the first place, and only when that proves impossible should you try to fix the problem. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

  2. Well, maybe that will come later – good thinking, though.

    On one hand, I wonder how many people will be willing to allow nanomachines into their bodies (that aren’t faced with a related life-or-death choice), but, on the other hand, how many will be “invaded” without knowing it? Some people are already expressing real concern about nanoparticles of titanium dioxide in their sunscreen getting into their eyes, where the particles can reportedly travel *through the nerve cells themselves* and reach the brain.

    There’s a lot we don’t know yet. That’s for sure.

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