Unsightly underarm sweat patches could soon be a thing of the past thanks to a new fabric developed at the University of California, Davis. Instead of simply soaking up sweat like conventional fabrics, the new fabric is threaded with tiny channels that pull the sweat from one side to the other where it forms into droplets that drain away.

The fabric grew out of microfluidics research in the UC Davis Micro-Nano Innovations Laboratory of Tingrui Pan, professor of biomedical engineering, which generally focuses on microfluidic “lab on a chip” devices that use tiny channels to manipulate fluids for medical diagnostic tests and other applications.

By stitching hydrophilic (water-attracting) threads into a highly hydrophobic (water-repelling) fabric, graduate students Siyuan Xing and Jia Jiang developed a new textile microfluidic platform that sucks droplets of water along the threads from one side of the fabric to expel them on the other.

The water-repellent properties of the surrounding fabric help drive water down the hydrophilic threads to complement the capillary action that conducts the water through the fabric. Because of the sustained pressure gradient generated by the surface tension of the droplets, the water is drawn through even when the threads are saturated.

It is possible to control where the sweat is collected and where it drains away on the outer side by adjusting the patter of the hydrophilic fibers and how they are stitched on each side of the fabric.

The fabric not only remains completely dry but breathable as well, which should make the technology attractive to clothing manufacturers. Additionally, Xing says, “we intentionally did not use any fancy microfabrication techniques so it is compatible with the textile manufacturing process and very easy to scale up.”

The new fabric is detailed in a paper published in the journal Lab on a Chip and can be seen in action in the video below.

Source: UC Davis