Accessibility Skip to Global Navigation Skip to Local Navigation Skip to Content Skip to Search Skip to Site Map Menu

“Something wicked (smelling)” this way comes – the science of fabrics and odours

Greenery in the University Quadrangle

Monday 4 September 2017 9:32am

Tobi Richter and Prof Raechel Laing
Tobi Richter and Professor Raechel Laing – Credit Sharron Bennett

New research from the University of Otago has a slight whiff to it – researchers have used advanced technology to find out why three common fibre types differ in how they take in and release body odour.

Using Proton transfer reaction-mass spectrometry (PTR-MS), the researchers studied cotton, polyester and wool and found that cotton adsorbed and released the least amount of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), whilst polyester was the worst offender in terms of odour binding and emission.

Adsorption is the process of molecules of gas, liquid, or dissolved solids sticking to a surface.

Professor Raechel Laing (Centre for Materials Science and Technology) and her co-authors from the Department of Food Science say three different patterns were observed: low relative adsorption and low overall release of the volatiles for cotton, high relative adsorption and continuous release of the volatiles for polyester, and high relative adsorption but low overall release for wool.

The findings appear in the US-published Textile Research Journal.

The different effects of VOCs on different materials could be explained by the action of intermolecular forces based on the chemical structure of the fibres, according to the research team.

Further investigations into the effects of antimicrobial treatments applied to fabrics and the VOC production from bacterial breakdown at the skin surface along with the adsorption and release capabilities of other common fibres such as viscose, and possibly silk, will help to increase product performance irrespective of a product country of origin, she says.

For more information, contact:

Professor Raechel Laing
Centre for Materials Science and Technology
University of Otago
Tel 64 3 479 7540


A list of Otago experts available for media comment is available elsewhere on this website.

Electronic addresses (including email accounts, instant messaging services, or telephone accounts) published on this page are for the sole purpose of contact with the individuals concerned, in their capacity as officers, employees or students of the University of Otago, or their respective organisation. Publication of any such electronic address is not to be taken as consent to receive unsolicited commercial electronic messages by the address holder.