Vertically-challenged soccer fans who were left with their heads (and noses) at armpit level in crowds watching the final game of the European Championship tournament Sunday might have wished their taller neighbors wore this new product: perfumed clothing. Researchers in Portugal have developed a way to insert "microcapsules," which are small shells measuring between 1 and 100 micrometers (the latter is slightly longer than the width of a human hair) into fabrics. Fragrances can be injected into the shells, which can then be used in products from scratch-and-sniff stickers to peel-apart perfume samples in magazines. Currently, these microcapsules are made with formaldehyde, a known cancer-causing agent that is also an environmental hazard. To put microcapsules into textiles, a safer material is needed. So scientists turned to polyurethane-urea, a more environmentally-friendly plastic that is compatible with fabrics. The researchers created microcapsules filled with limonene (which is found in the rinds of lemons and gives them their citrus smell), and applied them to samples of wool and polyester. They tested the scent-infused fabrics and found that the scent was long-lasting and resisted drying cleaning and other wear. Such lemony-fresh fabrics could be used to make BO-neutralizing, suits, socks and even underwear, the researchers say. The results of the study are detailed in the July 2 issue of the journal Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research. The research was funded by the Agencia de Inovação.
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Andrea Thompson is an associate editor at Scientific American, where she covers sustainability, energy and the environment. Prior to that, she was a senior writer covering climate science at Climate Central and a reporter and editor at Live Science, where she primarily covered Earth science and the environment. She holds a graduate degree in science health and environmental reporting from New York University, as well as a bachelor of science and and masters of science in atmospheric chemistry from the Georgia Institute of Technology.