We might not always enjoy it, but we all do it: we clean. We wash clothes, sweep floors, scrub dishes, and wipe down countertops. We do it to keep our surroundings and ourselves safe and in working order, not to mention looking good. But many of the current methods we use to clean require significant inputs of energy and materials, whether it’s a cleaning product from a bottle or our own elbow grease. How might we clean our world and use fewer resources at the same time?
The natural world presents plenty of ways to get dirty: organisms contend with mud, dust, and sticky liquids, as well as contaminating microbes. For many biological surfaces, being clean is critical to function. Eyes need to stay clean to see and leaves need to keep free of dirt to absorb light. Spiders have to manage their own glue to build webs and not get stuck to their own sticky strands. But for all the ways to get dirty, nature has an equally impressive variety of ways to get clean. And, many of these strategies require little effort. What can nature teach us about how to solve our stickiest cleaning situations? This collection of strategies highlights some of the many ways that living systems keep themselves clean.