Clothing that keeps you dry even when it’s not raining

CurioCity writer
23 January 2012

There is nothing worse (unless you like being wet and reeking of B.O.) than having to run from soccer practice or gym class to some other part of your day like sitting beside that cute guy/girl in French class. Trust me on this one.

Changing your clothes helps a little, but there never seems to be enough time to dry off to a comfortable level before the next period starts. Polyamide-containing clothing, known as UnderArmour™, Dri-Fit™, Climacool™, and numerous other aliases, has lessened the terror of sweaty and potentially embarrassing encounters.

But how does it work?

Our bodies produce sweat to keep us cool, with the heat from your body used to evaporate the sweat. This causes a drop in temperature on the skin's surface, cooling you down. In a regular cotton t-shirt, sweat is absorbed into the fabric, not having enough time to evaporate before more accumulates. Hence, nasty pit stains.

 

Did You Know?
Polyamides are not found in nature, they were invented by DuPont™ scientists in the 1930s. The reason why polyamide textiles are excellent at absorbing sweat are their 'wicking' properties, or tendency to pull water from the skin's surface through to the fabric's other side, where it can evaporate. This keeps us cool and relatively sweat-free when the workout is done.

Wicking in polyamide textiles is caused by two major chemical properties of the polymers (a.k.a. plastics). The first is that the ends of the polymers consist of polar end groups. These polar molecule portions have negatively and positively charged ends, which are highly attractive to the polar water molecules in sweat.

The second is that the major portions of the polyamide polymers are crystalline, meaning that the atoms are arranged in a highly organized structure extending in three dimensions. Water molecules cannot penetrate the polyamide's orderly interior. As a result, the water molecules are attracted to one polar end of the molecule, and are pulled right through the fabric to the other polar end.

 

Did You Know?
Polyamide is the generic name for Nylon™ (yes, the very same stuff used to make pantyhose). Other 'useful' properties of polyamides are that they have good tensile strength (can stretch without breaking), they are easily dyeable (the polar molecules hold dye well), and are shiny- which adds to the superhero effect of these clothes.

A search for polyamides on Google Scholar™ reveals pages and pages of patents for every kind of thing you could possibly wear, from socks to polyamide-containing hats and sports bras.

Fabrics with different arrangements and amounts of polyamide can be used to design clothing for all seasons. In the summer, polyamide clothing provides a direct path for sweat- from skin, through the fabric and into the air.

For winter clothes, polyamides are placed next to the skin, where they also pull sweat away. However, the next layer (or layers) of fabric are chosen to contain the sweat, but still insulate you from the cold outside air.

 

Did You Know?
The properties of polyamides are altered by heat and UV rays. Too much sun or any ironing will ruin their sweat-wicking capabilities. So the next time you are enjoying your favourite sport or workout, you can enjoy the fact you won't be overly disgusting when you are done- providing you remember your deodorant.

Learn More!

Textiles: Nylons

A summary of different types of polyamide wicking fabrics. Click Here

Wiki on Nylon

NTCR Research on fabrics

Google on Moisture-Wicking Fabrics

Marianne Peso is a Master’s student at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario. Her current research focuses on a species of large carpenter bees (Xylocopa virginica) and whether or not they can tell their nestmates and non-nestmates apart. In addition to being an animal fanatic, she is also a soccer fanatic and hopes to attend a World Cup tournament in the near future.

CurioCity writer

Article written by a CurioCity expert.

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