If fart-filtering underwear sounds like the kind of technology that should win a Nobel Prize (or at least an Ig Nobel), well, there’s a good reason you’re not on the selection committee. Shreddies, a brand of flatulence-masking undergarments, has been saving noses for nearly a decade now.
While pretty much everyone could've used a pair of these at some embarrassing point that's now burned into their memory forever, Shreddies are particularly useful for people with chronic gut conditions.
While she'll let loose in private, public situations are fraught with anxiety.
Michelle Novak, a 36-year-old who lives and works in San Francisco -- and, disclosure: a longtime friend -- has been living with Crohn's disease since 2000. The disorder affects her small intestine, which has led to 16 long years worth of doctor's visits, hospital trips, a flurry of "alternative" cures, even recently spending months on bedrest to heal microfractures in her hips that were created by her body's lack of nutrient absorption.
But aside from the medical disasters that occasionally rear their ugly head, perhaps the worst of all have been the consistent gas pains whenever the disease cycle returns to wreak havoc.
"If I'm feeling better, things are quiet," she tells me. "But when it's flared up, there's no rhyme or reason to what gives you gas."
While she'll let loose in private, public situations are fraught with anxiety. Then she bought her first pair of Shreddies, the "flatulence-filtering" underwear.
Seriously bad gas is no joke
Ever get bad gas while stuck in the window seat of a plane? Imagine that, but standing on a packed BART ride. And in a business meeting with superiors. And out with friends at happy hour. And the times in between. Letting it fly is what your body wants to do, but what about the rest of society? Well, they'd clearly prefer you keep it in, but that can be pretty uncomfortable. "People say ridiculous things like, oh, it was just gas pain," she says. "Gas pain can be really painful!"
Novak's had her fair share of hacks over the years. Her office desk is super-clean, not necessarily because she's one to keep tidy, but because her grapefruit-scented cleaner is perfect cover-up. She scouts the little-used back rooms of any building she's working in, in case she needs to scurry off for quick relief. She tried putting a dryer sheet in her underwear once. "It wasn't really effective," Novak says. "Maybe one or two farts, but that's not really a long solution."
The whole thing has been draining, physically and mentally. "I remember when I read Water for Chocolate, and there was a character who sleeps in her own bedroom because of bad gas," she says. "I remember thinking at the time, this is going to be me. I'm going to be ostracized, it will be lonely and shameful. This is going to be my fate."
Until she got fart-filtering underwear.
The underwear contains time-tested filtering materials
The use of activated carbon -- formed by heating materials like coal, coconuts, or nuts to where they develop a network of absorptive pores -- as a filtering device dates all the way back to the ancient Egyptians, who used the "black magic" to treat the foul odors associated with wounds. In the 18th century, it was used as a way to purify water; Brita simply streamlined the centuries-old concept. And throughout World War I, carbon was embedded in the gas masks used by those toiling in the trenches.
So, it's only logical that someone would eventually use this concept to filtering out one of the most offensive odors of all: farts.
How does this black magic work, since you can't just stick charcoal down your pants?
The underwear was designed back in 2006 by English designer Paul O'Leary after a bout of his own gastrointestinal problems. The concept was developed with a team of lingerie designers at De Montfort University in Leicester, and put on the market in 2008.
Inside each pair is a thin layer of Zorflex, a type of cloth made with activated carbon, which serves as the shield between your butt and the world's air. It "recharges" whenever the underwear is washed, so you don't have to worry about acquiring the smell of a thousand rotten farts that lingered way too long.
A pair sells for roughly $30 a pop, with an extra premium for their line of filter-embedded pajamas or jeans. The company is also developing an under-short that will be made of 100% carbon, offering the most protection ever; they're hoping it'll be available in the next few months.
They do more than spare some minor embarrassment
Being freed to let loose without the horror of having to smell what one has dealt may seem like small fries to those of us with the occasional bout of indigestion. But for sufferers of Crohn's, Colitis, IBS, or any of the other gastrointestinal issues that ravage the insides, this underwear has been a lifesaver.
"It has changed my life!" Novak says. "I can even have, like, a gluten-free beer now. It still upsets me, and I have gas, but no big deal. I have this thing now. It's like a superpower." With her magic underwear, she's now able to roam about life free of most pain, farting with impunity.
The only thing she has to worry about now is that other pesky component of the fart, that is, the sound of the fury. "I'd pay a premium [if they could muffle the sound]," she says. "In a heartbeat." Shreddie's official FAQ, meanwhile, offers the sage uncle-like advice that "most flatulence sufferers are able to control the noise by altering their body position."
But without the bad smell getting in the way, why spend any time worrying about the sound? That remains the same as ever: the funniest sound in human history.
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