Wednesday, January 09, 2008

9 Whats In Your Athletic Wear?

I was away in Olean, NY for an intensive 2 day interview with Dresser-Rand (I got the job!). I'm back in Buffalo, and I have rocketed into my base building for the season. (Is it just me or do I think one legged intervals are awesome, especially for building some ripped obliques?!)

In a perfect world (at least for me), the microfiber jerseys, shorts,running pants, under armor and base layers we wear would be odor resistant.The stink that they carry after a session of training or racing comes really from sweat and bacteria, that love to thrive in moisture (think socks). While its nice that this problem can be simply avoided by soaking in detergent water, it'll be better still that odor can be taken care off on the spot, while we train and ride.

In this new era, we have moisture wicking jerseys and shorts. You pay a premium for them, but I really question how good they are. How about our base layers? Its really those pieces that are sticking to our bodies that need a small revolution in odor free properties.

An interesting article in Wall Street Journal dated December 29,2007 addresses how sports wear companies are realizing the need for this change. "Tree Huggers" will be perhaps interested to know that metals, particularly silver, was being used to treat odor in fabrics but environmental concerns have been provoking the need for better, more 'green' materials. For instance, silver ions are bonded to the thread of the BioActiv Italian Chamois popularized by RaceFace in their clothing line. Some of these organic tools are very interesting. For example, Cocona fabrics use carbon derived from cocunut shells to fight odor, while chitosan (derived from Crab shells) is another idea being used in Capilene fabric promoted by Patagonia.

Courtesy WSJ

The article doesn't say whether cycling wear companies are looking at these new solutions (I wish they did), but it does mention the superiority of Merino wool in natural odor fighting.

Another reason to go retro and avoid petroleum-based synthetics?


  1. I have some running clothes that smell pretty bad as well.

    From my understanding, the odor comes from the bacteria waste. I would say making the fabrics have some antimicrobial properties would help. Perhaps a detergent manufacturer could incorporate an antibac component that could exchange onto the fabric and kill/prevent bacteria from residing there making it impossible for them to process the nasties in sweat.

  2. The way I understand it, the odor that develops over a season is exacerbated by the same qualities that make the material wick moisture. The fabric is so good at keeping moisture away that the washing process (a water-based cleaning method) is less effective than for simple cotton. And if you do get a good, deep clean, it may mean that the detergents in your soap have adhered to the fabric, making them not wick so well once they're dry. Bummer.

  3. Funny that your post was on this topic. I was just putting Spray N' Wash in the armpits of one of my older jerseys. I know... to much info. I think this fits what David was talking about with the aging and build-up of detergent in the fabric. It's time to engineer something new...

  4. Chris, Dave and Don :

    I'm not too sure of fabrics but its been a good learning process. Check out the links under CLOTHING on my main page (left hand side). There's even a paper on science of moisture wicking...

    Wicking is good for moisture removal I guess since polyester absorbs less percentage of its weight in water.

    But I think I see the point (Dave's) that its the inherent properties of the fabric what keeps the odor in.

    I'm not at home so I can't inspect my jerseys but my question would be : Are moisture wicking fabrics 100% polyester or is it a combo of cotton and polyester. That way, cotton can absorb water during the washing cycle and throw some of that odor off. I'm not sure.

    But since Polyester lets in air molecules, I would (theoretically) build some kind of blower that lets out fresh scents and kicks odor out. If this process can be mimicked in a washer that'll be nice.

    I'm again not sure if the above will work, since odor is really molecules that you want to trap and kick out. That said, I'm beginning to gain an understanding on how activated carbon works. Cocona fabrics seem promising. I haven't tried one but I want to see how good it is.

    I will now pase a comment left by Gregory Haggquist on TreeHugger on the topic of carbon and cocona.


    Activated carbon uses the adsorbance process to control odors. Adsorbance is a reversible process dictated by temperature. The activated carbon surface area is full of pores, the sizes of the pores and the size of the adsorbant (odor) dictated the interaction energy between the adsorbant and the adsorbate. The higher the interaction energy the higher the temperature required to desorb the adsorbant.

    COCONA uses coconut shell activated carbon. Body odors are molecules such as butyric acid, isovaleric acid, and trimethyl amine. These molecules are all similar in size. The coconut shell activated carbon has pore sizes that are just right to adsorb these molecules at ambient temperatures and desorb these molecules at temperatures found in a washer (hot water cycle) and cloth dryers. We verified this by testing the adsorbance capacity of each COCONA certified fabric. The test determines the adsorbance capacity using butane gas. We ran experimental trials where we saturated a COCONA fabric and then washed and dried the fabric 50 times. We found that the adsorbance capacity slightly increased over the 50 cycles. The capacity increased because more of the pores of the coconut shell carbon became exposed. The reason for this is in the patented process TrapTek uses to make COCONA yarns and fabrics. TrapTek uses a protective layer which coats the carbon during the processing of the yarn. If no protective layer is used when the polyester polymer is melted to be formed into yarn the polyester will fill up the activated carbon. In a sense this deactivates the activated carbon. When the polyester solidifies to form the yarn the carbon pores are filled and covered with polyester never to be exposed. However, in the TrapTek patented process we use a protective layer which covers and protects the pores during the yarn processing and fabric production. The final step in the fabric processing removes this protective layer exposing the activated carbon pores. Further washing continues to remove this protective layer exposing more of the activated carbon pores increasing the adsorbance capacity.

    A second benefit from the exposed surface area of the coconut shell activated carbon is the fast dry times found in COCONA fabrics. Experimentally we see improvements in the dry time of fabrics made with COCONA yarns. For more information please feel free to visit

    Best Regards,
    Gregory Haggquist


  5. Interesting trivia about activated carbon :

    One gram of it has the surface area of two tennis courts! I think this is the stuff that'll absorb odors..

  6. One problem with activated carbon is that the pores are so small that some molecules cannot be adsorbed. This may not be an issue for this applications. For certain other target molecules, formulators are turning to plately materials with highly charged surfaces such as synthetic silicate materials.

  7. Thanks for the input Chris.

    Synthetic silicate ... aah, reminds me of those silica bags they would put inside shoes or bags when you bought them.

  8. Sorry, I just now read this post. But, I've been experimenting with my hiking shirts lately and found the merino wool to be the least smelly. I had used some of my synthetic cycling base layers and Patagonia's odor fighting Capilene, and boy did I stink with those.

  9. Marla : Thank you. Back in the olden days, I think wool was very popular with cyclists. Its interesting that you said Capilene wasn't very effective. I have no experience with them but none of these synthetics seem to be any rival to natural fibers. Just recently, I heard that silver ions used to battle odor in some of these apparel were actually impacting the environment, particularly water bodies. Now thats bad..


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