Staying sticky: contact self-cleaning of gecko-inspired adhesives

Yiğit Mengüç, Michael Röhrig, Uyiosa Abusomwan, Hendrik Hölscher, Metin Sitti


The exceptionally adhesive foot of the gecko remains clean in dirty environments by shedding contaminants with each step. Synthetic gecko-inspired adhesives have achieved similar attachment strengths to the gecko on smooth surfaces, but the process of contact self-cleaning has yet to be effectively demonstrated. Here, we present the first gecko-inspired adhesive that has matched both the attachment strength and the contact self-cleaning performance of the gecko's foot on a smooth surface. Contact self-cleaning experiments were performed with three different sizes of mushroom-shaped elastomer microfibres and five different sizes of spherical silica contaminants. Using a load–drag–unload dry contact cleaning process similar to the loads acting on the gecko foot during locomotion, our fully contaminated synthetic gecko adhesives could recover lost adhesion at a rate comparable to that of the gecko. We observed that the relative size of contaminants to the characteristic size of the microfibres in the synthetic adhesive strongly determined how and to what degree the adhesive recovered from contamination. Our approximate model and experimental results show that the dominant mechanism of contact self-cleaning is particle rolling during the drag process. Embedding of particles between adjacent fibres was observed for particles with diameter smaller than the fibre tips, and further studied as a temporary cleaning mechanism. By incorporating contact self-cleaning capabilities, real-world applications of synthetic gecko adhesives, such as reusable tapes, clothing closures and medical adhesives, would become feasible.

  • Received December 28, 2013.
  • Accepted January 28, 2014.
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