The hydrophobic fabric repels water except where stitched with channels

New waterproof fabric shifts sweat from clothing

Developed by bioengineers at the University of California, Davis, the fabric works like human skin, by “forming excess sweat into droplets that drain away by themselves,” says inventor Tingrui Pan, professor of biomedical engineering.

The fabric was developed by graduate students Siyuan Xing and Jia Jiang who stitched hydrophilic threads into water repellent fabric, creating thread patterns which sucked water droplets from one side of the fabric and then propelled them along threads and expelled them on the other side. The threads conduct water through capillary action, while the surrounding fabric drives water down the channels due to its water-repellent nature.

“We intentionally did not use any fancy microfabrication techniques so it is compatible with the textile manufacturing process and very easy to scale up,” says Xing, lead graduate student on the project.

According to the researchers, the water-pumping effect is sustainable even if the water-conducting fibres are completely saturated, because of “the pressure gradient generated by the surface tension of droplets”. Thus the fabric stays completely dry and breathable. This makes the fabric unique compared to conventional fabric such as cotton, which may keep sweat at bay but tends to get clingy after more strenuous exercise.

The fabric could be ideal for athletes and clothing manufacturers, who are interested in fabrics that remove sweat and let the skin breathe.

The Micro-Nano Innovations Laboratory at UC Davis has Microfluidics as one of its areas of research, which focuses on making ‘lab on a chip’ devices that use tiny channels to manipulate fluids. Professor Tingrui Pan and his colleagues are developing these systems for applications like medical diagnostic tests.

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