Fresh garments

A new fabric can kill irritating smells and save you from skin diseases

Published: Wednesday 30 April 1997

Antifungal garments will be on there is good news for people who have athlete's foot, jock itch and those who have laundry baskets full of smelly socks. An acrylic fibre that can kill irritating, odour-producing microorganisms has been produced by British textile company Courtaulds.

The fibres are impregnated with antifungal and antibacterial compounds that slowly rub off onto the body of the wearer, preventing nasty niffs in the folds of the skin. "The fibres prevent the growth of bacteria and fungi that are responsible for the smells from sweat and urine that collect in underwear," says David Service, head of the Courtaulds team that developed the material. Retailers in Britain plan to launch socks, towels and bedding made from the fabrics in the next few months, and underwear and sportswear will soon follow.

The first of the 'active' polyacrylonitrile fibres to hit the market, trade-named Amicor, contains an antibacterial agent called irgasan.The compound is widely used in toothpastes, mouthwashes and hand creams. It kills a range of bacteria, including the Straphyloccoccus aureus 'superbug' that has become resistant to penicillin and other widely used antibiotics.

Amicor Plus will be the next fibre on the line. It contains a secret antifungal agent. Courtaulds is confident that socks made from this fibre could help to keep the fungus that causes athlete's foot at bay. Similarly, underwear made from the material could combat fungi such as Candida albicans, which causes thrush. "It will stop the fungi, and the microorganisms that grow in the garment, but we've no proof yet that the material can cure the ailments themselves," says Service.

In order to get irgasan and the anti-fungal compound into the fibres and to prevent them being washed out, Courtaulds introduced globules of the agents into the polymerisation process that produces the polyacrylonitrile chains. Spinning these chains together to form fibres traps the globules inside the material. From the trapped globules the active chemicals diffuse to the surface of the fibres in a steady stream, replenishing the surface when any agent rubbed or washed off. The globules have a pretty long life and survive as long as the fabric does.

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