Waterproof fabrics that control and improve the way sweat wicks away from the body are under development by US researchers using microfluidic engineering.
A team of bioengineers at the University of California, Davis, say they have created a material containing threads that act like channels through which water is pumped to designated parts of the fabric, leaving the rest of it completely dry.
Unlike conventional materials that wick sweat away from the body, the fabric stays dry – the researchers claim – even when the conducting fibres are saturated because it uses the surface tension of the droplets to create a pressure difference that keeps the water moving.
‘We intentionally did not use any fancy microfabrication techniques so it is compatible with the textile manufacturing process and very easy to scale up,’ researcher Siyuan Xing said in a statement.
The work was influenced by the study of microfluidics, which typically focuses on making lab-on-a-chip devices that use tiny channels in a substrate to manipulate fluids, for example for testing medical samples in handheld devices.
The water-repellent threads in the rest of the fabric help drive the water down the hydrophilic (water-attracting) channels to leave the material feeling dry and breathable.
The researchers said they could control where sweat is collected and where it drains away on the outside by adjusting the pattern of water-conducting fibres and how they are stitched on each side of the fabric.
A paper on the research was published recently in the journal Lab on a Chip. The work was funded in part by the US National Science Foundation.