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David Gregory-Kumar: Declassified technology tackles smelly feet

David Gregory-Kumar
Science & Environment correspondent, BBC News


There is no doubting applying defence technology to body odour is a clever bit of lateral thinking.

And, the end result created by a small Shropshire company not far from Telford is attracting a lot of interest.

image captionThe bottle without the patch certainly smelt

The man who had the original idea is Steve Rawlings. He worked in uniforms and the defence industry in the 1980s and it occurred to him then that some of the fabrics he was using with the military might be useful elsewhere.

In particular, he wondered if the materials he was experimenting with in deep sea diving suits might have civilian applications.

Once things were declassified, and with his son looking to start a business, it was a short step to creating an iron-on patch to tackle smelly feet and whiffy armpits.

Degrees of whiff

In the past 18 months things have begun to take off for Odegon.

They have created an odour product for shoes that is being sold under Boots' own brand and their patches are now being sewn into some M&S suits.

They are also looking at a large order from a well known airline and are very hopeful other shops will put in orders in the future.

But as a scientist isn't smell a bit subjective? How can you be really sure these patches work? How can you detect degrees of whiff?

Well, of course in reality as the people behind Odegon explained to me there's plenty of science from the defence research to back up the claimed capabilities of these fabrics, and Boots and M&S have done their own testing too.

To try to quantify something as nebulous as body odour you use several experts with highly trained noses and then average out their sniff-scores.

image captionThe patch seemed to absorb the pungent cheesy smell

We did our own testing which involved me going for a run and some interval training.

Working up a sweat in a shirt with one armpit treated with an iron-on patch and the other with nothing.

It definitely seemed to me that the treated armpit smelt better, but perhaps one of my armpits is more sweaty than the other?

It's certainly hard to smell your own armpits. I needed to film a really definitive test and so out came the cheese.

Two sealed plastic bottles with cheese in the bottom, left overnight on an Aga. But, inside one of the bottles a small Odegon patch.

I can confirm that the patch managed to soak up almost all the cheesy smell whereas the other bottle had a stench that almost made me throw up.

Science wins again! Though given the choice, I would have stuck with trying to sniff my own armpits.