When you select fabrics do you look for Agion treated fibers? Maybe you’ve never even heard of Agion, even though they’ve been around since 1997. They are quietly revolutionizing outdoor wear with their partners, many of whom you are familiar with, such as Under Armour, Columbia and Doc Martens. I’ve lived through a number of fabric innovations, from scratchy polypropylene long underwear that pilled and smelled after repeated wearings, heavy synthetic sleeping bags that relieved worry about loss of insulation when wet and fleece layers that released us from itchy wool. Now I see fabrics and materials coming full circle as we embrace the warmth of merino wool and feather down and the comfort of cotton, but with some significant differences, thanks to lots of R&D. Technology is being leveraged to take the best features that made natural fibers popular and make them better. Agion’s parent company, Sciessent (based in Wakefield, MA), is doing their part by offering odor control, working with partners like Cotton, Inc to bring us good old, soft, comfortable cotton that wicks away moisture.
Agion bases their technology on the use of silver (whose chemical symbol is Ag) ions, copper and zinc, elements that occur in nature and have inherent antimicrobial qualities. Kill the bacteria that are responsible for odor and no more stinky clothing after sweating though a hard workout. Way back when I was a nurse working in hospitals I remember when silver coatings on medical instruments represented a breakthrough in infection control. Agion, who also partners with medical device companies, uses a silver ion-based antimicrobial process to make products safer for patients, and now they are bringing that technology to the outdoor market.
To understand how Sciessent’s products work on fabric it’s helpful to sort out the individual components: Agion Antimicrobial, Lava and Agion Active. It gets a little technical, but it’s very interesting. These Sciessent brands are Bluesign approved, meaning that they adhere to principles of sustainability, safety and environmental responsibility.
Silver ions, copper and zinc ions utilized to control odors in fabrics, fibers, plastics and other surfaces. Ions from metallic elements are released when Agion Antimicrobial comes into contact with moisture and attack the microbe’s cell wall, internal metabolic processes and ability to replicate itself—three different ways to control bacteria while being harmless to we humans.
Lava is a new Sciessent odor control product that uses non-toxic minerals to further enhance the process. Specifically, zeolites, which are derived from volcanic ash, attract, adsorb and capture odors (rather than just masking them), trapping the vapors like a vacuum cleaner, only to release them in the wash.
Agion Active takes odor control even further, combining metallic ion-based Agion Antimicrobial and the mineral-based Lava products into one solution that can be applied to fabrics in a finishing step and can be combined with moisture wicking finishes.
Steve and I have been testing a couple of products with Agion Active with excellent findings so far. Steve has been wearing an Under Armour UA Base 5.0 shirt that was thick, warm and breathable—great for cold, wintry days. The Under Armour Scent Control features Agion Active. The material was soft and you’d never know there was any kind of special finish on it. We’ll have to report back in a few months to see how it holds up over multiple washings but according to company literature the special antimicrobial and odor control treatment should last as long as the garment. I’ve been wearing a pink UA Tech Short-Sleeve V-Neck T-shirt with TransDry cotton.
Agion + TRANSDry Cotton
I was excited to hear about a new partnership between Sciessent’s Agion and Cotton, Inc’s TRANSDry because I have never been able to wean myself off cotton. I wear high-tech synthetics when backpacking and on long-haul trips because of the moisture wicking properties but always, always have at least one cotton t-shirt with me. There’s just no way to beat the softness of cotton against the skin and the cool breathability in hot, humid weather. The TRANSDry process solves the wicking problem by blending water repellent yarns with cotton fibers, endowing them with the same wicking properties as high-tech synthetics. That means TRANSDRYdries faster than untreated cotton after washing and keeps you comfortable during intense exercise. This is great news for a cotton lover like me. I’ve been testing a cute pink TransDRY T-shirt that has been paired with Sciessent’s Agion and I can’t tell the difference between it and untreated cotton by touch, but it wears more like my synthetic T-shirts when I’m on a 10 mile hike in the unseasonably warm January weather we’re having. I tested the TRANSDry shirt by washing it and a synthetic shirt, hanging them to drip dry. They dried in the same amount of time.
A potential downside is that the original, completely natural textile is now coated with multiple finishes and I wondered if some people might have skin sensitivities to any of the products. Company toxicology reports show that Lava is non-irritating and Agion is non-sensitizing. An internet search didn’t reveal anything on the negative side, but several scientific and lay articles commented on the antimicrobial (even against the dreaded MRSA ) and detoxifying benefits of metals and zeolites. Skin irritation can be caused by a variety of natural and treated fibers but nothing pointed specifically to silver, copper, zinc or zeolite. Another concern centers on the effect of silver ions escaping into the environment, as laundering is likely to release small amounts of silver ions into the water. This is an area of current research so the jury is out.
The Ultimate Test: 170 miles on the John Muir Trail
Steve and I put Agion-treated hiking shirts to the test when we hiked 170 miles of the John Muir Trail, a rigorous trail with huge elevation gains and losses of thousands of feet per day along the spine of the Sierra. We each brought one, and only one, short-sleeved hiking shirt, wearing it every single sweaty day for 23 days. We rinsed our shirts in rivers or lakes every 2-4 days, washing them in a commercial washer only once, on Day 6, at Red’s Meadow Resort. I sometimes added a couple of drops of bleach to a gallon of water when washing the clothes. The shirts never smelled of body odor at any time, even if we buried our noses in the armpits. We almost couldn’t believe it, but it proved the value of Agion beyond a shadow of a doubt. Steve used a Woolrich Destination Tee while I wore my UA Tech Short-Sleeve V-Neck T-shirt with TransDry cotton. Steve developed some minor skin irritation on his chest where his pack straps rubbed but it was hard to tell if it was simply from friction or if he was sensitive to the Agion, though he’s never experienced that before. He used some Body Glide and that reduced the irritation. The back of my pink shirt faded a bit, probably due to the bleach I used.
Pros: Fabrics treated with Sciessent products, including Agion and Lava, have enhanced odor control properties, and can be combined with moisture wicking TRANSDry.
Cons: The naturally occurring products used by Sciessent appear to be safe and non-toxic, though Steve did develop some irritation where his pack straps rubbed.
Bottom Line: Textile manufacturers are making great strides in improving the functionality of tried and true fibers like cotton, which benefits outdoors lovers. Sciessent is using naturally occurring substances like silver ions and zeolite that are less toxic than table salt to control odor while partnering with companies like Cotton, Inc to produce wicking properties with TRANSDry.
Disclosure of material connection: I received two sample shirts treated with Agion Active from Sciessent in consideration for an unbiased review.