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How do odor-eating socks work?

Dear Cecil:

A friend of mine, impressed that in the past you have deigned to answer a few of my humble queries, has requested that I seek an audience with you for a mystery. His question is this: how do so-called "odor-eating socks" work? Now realize: I would never ask such a question (I suspect deodorant or fraud). But this dear friend is involved in the field of medicine; perhaps he feels ashamed not to know the answer to this one. Won't you please have pity and illuminate him?

Joyce K., Seattle

Illustration by Slug Signorino

Cecil replies:

Cecil replies:

It’s always a pleasure to hear from you, Joyce, because you have true grit, and because you enclose a double sawbuck, an excellent attention-getting device that I heartily recommend to this column’s loyal readers. But on to socks. As you know, for countless eons mankind has been plagued by the problem of stinky feet. My father, for one, has a pair of pods that ought to be outlawed by the Geneva Convention. Fortunately, awesome scientific resources have been brought to bear on this matter in recent years, and the result is the High-Tech Sock, of which the Burlington Bioguard Sock is a representative example.

In primitive low-tech socks, sweat from the soles of the feet collects next to the skin, providing a fertile breeding ground for the noxious bacteria that cause odor. Burlington Bioguard Socks, however, are made with a couple synthetic inner layers and a cotton outer layer. The nonabsorbent synthetic layers convey moisture to the absorbent outer layer via capillary action, so that the feet remain relatively dry. In addition, the socks are treated with a potent antimicrobial agent made by Dow Corning, a sister company of the firm that once manufactured napalm. In other words, we ain’t fooling around here, folks. The antimicrobial agent consists of a polymer known as silicone quaternary amine, which mercilessly exterminates offending bacteria (or more accurately, keeps them from breeding), thus preventing odor and prolonging the life of the sock. The stuff is relatively immune to the abrasive effects of laundering; Burlington claims it will last the life of the sock.

I have not yet had an opportunity to experiment on my father with Bioguard socks, and my mother is frankly of the opinion that in his case using deodorant socks is like fighting a forest fire with a squirt gun. However, persons with a more optimistic outlook (or less pestilential feet) are cordially invited to give the aforementioned product a try.

Cecil Adams

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