Self-cleaning windows are well known for their ability to function with airborne pollutants, but there is a growing industry for semi-permanent subaquatic optical devices, where the performance of such windows should be considered. Here sol-gel technology is explored as a means of producing self-cleaning, subaquatic, sapphire windows. We demonstrate removal of marine bacteria and, in the worst-case contamination scenario, dead North Sea crude oil (API 35). This greasy contaminant was smeared across the windows to effectively reduce optical transmission strength to just 54%. The titania-based sol-gel-coated windows can restore transmission to within 10% of the clean value in less than one day, unlike standard sapphire windows, which lose 68% transmission following contamination and aquatic submergence over the same duration. A range of theories to enhance the self-cleaning performance of the sol-gel coating were explored, but none of the tested variables were able to provide any enhancement for subaquatic performance.
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