Superhydrophobic materials in sport

The Application of Hydrophobic and Superhydrophobic Materials in Sport

The equipment and clothing available to us for sport are constantly evolving and improving. When it comes to sportswear, not only do we care about how it looks and how comfortable it is, more and more we also looking for our active wear to enhance performance, be as practical as possible and for them to solve problems we may not even have thought of!

Among the advances in readily available active wear is the application of hydrophobic and superhydrophobic materials. These materials are revolutionising sportswear across a range of disciplines and sporting activities… 

What are Hydrophobic and Superhydrophobic Materials?

The word ‘hydrophobic’ is scientific in origin and refers to a material that repels moisture. An animal that has extremely waterproof skin, so much so that water simply rolls of them, is referred to as a hydrophobe. Therefore, hydrophobic and superhydrophobic materials are materials designed to be resistant to moisture. 

These fabrics are entirely engineered, and form many of what are known as ‘technical fabrics’. These are often synthetic and made by either engineering the chemistry of the material, or by coating the material in water resistant molecules. 

Hydrophobic and Superhydrophobic in Sport

Hydrophobic and superhydrophobic fabrics are a cornerstone of modern sportswear. Gone are the days when your workout clothes are made up of an old cotton t-shirt and a pair of cut-up jogging bottoms. Active wear is constantly evolving, and virtually every purpose designed sports garment has some level of hydrophobic property. 

The most obvious example of hydrophobic fabric being used can be seen in clothing associated with water sports. Good quality swimming costumes have engineered waterproofing properties, but it is in heavier water sport garments such as wetsuits that we see super-hydrophobic most commonly used, as it is imperative that cold water does not get in, and that body heat does not get out. 

Waterproofing, however, is not just about preventing the elements from penetrating your clothes. Hydrophobic materials are also important to ensure longevity. Clothing that does not absorb moisture does not hold on to odors (whether bodily or from external factors) and does not stain as easily. 

How Have They Enhanced Performance? 

Hydrophobic and super-hydrophobic textiles have many convenient properties; they dry more quickly, last longer and maintain their appearance. However, perhaps the most important question is, ‘how do they improve performance?’

  • Excess Weight
  • When fabrics take on moisture they become heavier, this means that you waste energy. When in a triathlon, for example, you do not want to be carrying moisture accumulated from the swimming leg whilst starting on the cycling leg of the course. Moisture accumulation is often a risk during outdoor sports, and hydrophobic materials help to ensure that you remain as quick and efficient as possible. 

  • Aerodynamics 
  • This is particularly true in swimwear. Super-hydrophobic materials help to reduce drag, as the water slides past you with ease.

  • Fatigue and Body Temperature
  • Accumulated moisture can also bring your body temperature down, which, in turn, cools the muscles. This not only leads to a hindered performance level, but also leaves you more susceptible to injury. Take a game of football, for example. If it rains for the whole match, you will be able to remain at peak performance without the concern of fatigue through heat loss. 

    Hydrophobic and super-hydrophobic technology has allowed the technical fabric and active wear industry to evolve at a significant pace over the last decade. It is because of these materials that the sports clothing and footwear available to us on the high street is becoming increasingly tailored to our needs and able to make exercise a considerably more comfortable and effective experience.