Hate getting sweaty? Self-cooling gym clothes could soon be a thing

Thanks to some exciting materials research, your sweaty workouts might be a thing of the past

Sweaty man doing a press up
(Image credit: Getty Images)

To some, sweaty workouts are a badge of honor, marking out intense training. But sweat can make us uncomfortable, with even a single bead rolling down your face enough to distract you from your exercise. 

That's why many of us invest in the best workout clothes for men and the best workout clothes for women to wick away sweat. But what if our fitness clothes kept us cooler and prevented sweat build-up altogether?

Thanks to some innovative materials research at Duke University, published in the journal Science Advances, self-cooling gym clothes could be closer than you think. 

The materials scientists produced prototype patches with miniature vented flaps. When applied to your clothing, the vents curl open to release heat if you get too hot and start producing sweat. 

To make this happen, the vents are made of nylon with a silver coating. When nylon gets wet, it starts to stretch out to all sides. The silver layer restricts that movement, leading to the curling effect. 

Once the material dries, it returns to its original form, and the vent closes. During testing, the team found that this patch was 16% warmer when closed and 14% cooler when open than regular workout gear. 

Prototype venting patch

(Image credit: Po-Chun Hsu, Duke University)

Their ambition is to make a more efficient version that could be placed in critical areas around your gym clothes. This would make your clothing more versatile for exercising outdoors and staying cool inside. 

As Po-Chun Hsu, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at Duke, noted, "we want the sweating parts of the body to be vented, which is not necessarily the underarms."

"Our chest and back need more venting, but the effort to unzip these areas, if zippers are even available, is almost the same as simply taking off the clothing," Hsu explained. 

It took a lot of experimentation to find the best combination of materials. Still, the researchers think it could be cost-effective to manufacture with machinery used in the packaging industry. 

By combining lightweight materials with existing production methods, it might not be too long before you can select from a range of self-cooling gym clothes to keep your workouts sweat-free. 

In the meantime, you can pick up one of the best sports bras to wick away moisture from around your chest and use the best water bottles for the gym to stay hydrated while exercising. 

James Frew
Fitness Editor

James is a London-based journalist and Fitness Editor at Fit&Well. He has over five years experience in fitness tech, including time spent as the Buyer’s Guide Editor and Staff Writer at technology publication MakeUseOf. In 2014 he was diagnosed with a chronic health condition, which spurred his interest in health, fitness, and lifestyle management.

In the years since, he has become a devoted meditator, experimented with workout styles and exercises, and used various gadgets to monitor his health. In recent times, James has been absorbed by the intersection between mental health, fitness, sustainability, and environmentalism. When not concerning himself with health and technology, James can be found excitedly checking out each week’s New Music Friday releases.