Researchers at Stanford University believe they’ve figured out the best way for your clothes to keep you cool when you just can’t go to the supermarket naked on a sweltering day. Wool blankets meant to keep us warm do so first by being a wool blanket, but, more importantly, by trapping the heat the body gives off in the form of infrared radiation. The same trapping occurs with our clothes, including clothes meant for hotter climates, but that may become a thing of the past.

clothes
Photo by kheinz (Pixabay)

Clothes designed to keep you cooler in your modesty

Published in the journal Science today, the Stanford researchers point out that the fashion/textile industry has done very little to remember that clothing traps the body’s infrared radiation and consequently has us sweating unnecessarily and generally uncomfortable when the mercury spikes.

Many advances have been made in clothing design with cooling at the forefront. However, even synthetic fibers used in wicking technology, which recognizes sweat and then draws moisture away from the body doesn’t deal with the problems that come from the trapping of our bodies natural emissions of heat.

“The textile industry hasn’t paid much attention to the infrared radiation property of clothing,” Po-Chun Hsu, one of the Stanford researchers, told Smithsonian magazine. “Specifically, transparency of infrared is an idea that has received very little research.”

Damn the body shamers

This would all be unnecessary if we were all simply comfortable naked. There would be no “burkini bans” and we could simply get on with the important things but that, thankfully or unfortunately, is just not the case.

And that’s what took the researchers to their published thesis and ultimately Saran wrap. Yes, you read that right; the researchers employed polyethylene in their battle against the body’s infrared radiation. Quite simply, infrared radiation passes through polyethylene as though the cling film wasn’t even there. But as you know, Saran wrap, generally speaking, is also transparent.

“If dissipating thermal radiation were our only concern, then it would be best to wear nothing,” said researcher Shanhui Fan in the news release that accompanied the publication of their paper today.

Due to our modesty and polyethylene’s transparency, the researchers knew they needed a more opaque material and turned to polyethylene used in battery making. That solved one problem but ran up against the fact that water doesn’t pass through polyethylene which will warm you up real quick so the team was forced to modify the chemical properties of the material they chose.

Once that was done they put cotton mesh between two layers of their altered Saran wrap and voila you’re nearly 4 degrees Fahrenheit cooler owing to the passing of infrared radiation.

Essentially the researchers fabricated something that occurs naturally in nature in the hairs of the Saharan silver ant, which cover the critter’s body according to Svetlana Boriskana, an expert in nano-engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who published an opinion piece accompanying today’s paper from the team at Stanford.

“The hairs are fine enough to strongly scatter and reflect sunlight to avoid overheating by absorption,” writes Boriskana. “At the same time, they are transparent at IR [infrared] wavelengths for shedding heat. Removal of the hairs increased the ant temperature by a couple of Celsius degrees.”

Don’t go looking for this fabric today but wait a few years.