“Was that you?”
This is my girlfriend, Lauren, every Sunday at church in regards to the fart smell sitting in the air around us. Most of the time, yes, it is me, and I tell her so because we’ve gotten past the point of being shy about things like this.
“Well it smells like green smoothie,” she whispered to me one weekend. “Like celery. Can you smell that?”
This is a problem I often have in places I definitely shouldn’t. Long road trips with my boss, the first day of class after being dumped by my girlfriend and hoping the cute girl seated next to me will want to date, massage parlors: I have farted during, or in, each and every one of these, and prayed to god that it didn’t stink, only to find out, as always, that it did stink.
Then there’s the small matter of airplanes.
If you’ve ever been on a cross-country flight, or a flight to anywhere, and thought to yourself, “Jesus Christ, who farted?” you finally have your answer: It was me.
Even if I wasn’t on your plane, or near it, I’ll still shoulder the blame, as the amount of times I’ve ripped ass in a cabin accounts for every flight ever flown, and every flight still to be flown. And I don’t really know why. I could be gas-less for weeks. I could eat a steady diet of grilled chicken and Beano. But the moment I walk onto a plane, I could power any number of offshore wind farms.
This was why, in December, I was more than happy to publish “Why we fart more on airplanes”. Weeks earlier, I’d covered a story on “Why we enjoy the smell of our own farts”, and it’d done pretty well. And seeing as the airplane one relied on a little more science, and answered a question that had bothered me (and thousands of others) for years, I eagerly sent it to a writer.
Love at first sight
What I failed to anticipate was just how much this story would change my life. The information was insightful, yeah. But it was something in the last paragraph that stopped me in my tracks.
“Until we are in a situation where the Department of Homeland Security is protecting us from farts,” wrote redOrbit contributor John Hopton, “there are steps of our own we can take, such as wearing fart-filtering underwear.”
“Hold on,” I said, squinting at my computer. “Fart-filtering…what?”
I immediately clicked on the link and found myself on a page for a company called Shreddies–a British brand that specializes in undergarments that either filter flatulence or, if you suffer from incontinence, soak up urine. I was enthralled.
“Shreddies ‘flatulence filtering underwear’ have activated carbon cloth (called Zorflex) sandwiched between layers of regular fabric,” explained their Science-Behind-Shreddies section. “The specialty layer absorbs and traps the odor before it can make its way out into the open.”
At this point, I was weeping for joy. Why had I never heard of this technology? Where had it been my entire life? And did they also come in “noise-canceling”?
And if for anything else, for a fun science experiment.
I’d already made one foray into the underwear world. Why not another?
And so began the greatest experiment of my life
After talking to their media department, Shreddies graciously sent me two pairs to test: their “support boxer”, which looks and feels like a standard cotton boxer brief, except it has a thick pad that covers, for lack of a better term, your entire butt crack; and their “hipster,” which is made from material not unlike what you’d find on a bicycle short.
There were also specific instructions: On how to wash them (with baking soda only); on how they should fit (with no gaps in the legs or waist); and how you should stand or sit when releasing wind. It was this last part that I enjoyed the most.
“To avoid flatulence escaping around the filter, we recommend that you stand with your legs together and try to let your wind out slowly. When sitting, keep your knees together and sit upright so that flatulence cannot escape forward. If your Shreddies fit correctly, and you ensure that your flatulence passes through the rear panel, all odor will be removed.”
Game on, I thought. Game on.
But first, a brief science lesson
When your gas has caused somebody to pull over their car, get out, and consider heaving, you think you’d take a minute to find out what kinds of foods caused that reaction–and avoid them like hell.
I’d known beer–specifically cheap beer–to be a problem. And champagne. But as far as food, I wasn’t sure. Ethnic foods are a no-brainer; so, too, are beans; but I wasn’t about to spend my next week eating fajita quesadillas and curry. I’d end up in the emergency room.
So, like a good scientist, I turned to Google.
It turns out that smelly flatulence is the result of sulfur, and more specifically, hydrogen sulfide. Normal flatus is composed of three odorless gases: carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and methane. But when you consume foods high in sulfur–ie eggs, dairy products, meat, cauliflower, broccoli, kale, cabbage, and brussel sprouts–bacteria in your gut break these down and create a new gas as a byproduct: hydrogen sulfide.
This is what stinks like rotten eggs, and gives you the ability to singe eyebrows, peel paint, vaporize chairs, kill dogs under 20lbs, or whatever metaphor you want to use.
In other words: I’d found my grocery list.
I chose to test them first at the place I’d recently been having the most trouble: church.
I went to the grocery store on a Saturday; picked up hamburgers, cheddar cheese, brussel sprouts, chicken, quinoa, black beans, corn, guacamole, and a 12-pack of Corona; and proceeded to pound as much as I could that evening.
I feel like a packed musket, I wrote in my journal before going to bed. I’ve never been more excited in my life.
But I was also a little nervous. One of the questions people have asked me during this experiment is, “How do you know your farts smelled, though?” In other words, “How do you know the lack of smell is the Shreddies doing, and not just your lack of hydrogen sulfide?” It was an important question to ask.
The only way I saw around this, aside from strapping some kind of sulfur sensor to my cheeks, was to let one fly without them on; see how bad it was; then, if it was bad, get them on and continue to let it rip.
And this is how I went about it that first morning. While my girlfriend was still asleep, I very quietly dutch-ovened myself and found that, yes, I was ripe for the picking. So I hoisted on the “support boxer” and prepared for the morning ahead.
I turn to my journal for the play-by-play
[8:30 AM] Put on boxer briefs. Reviewed correct sitting position, now headed to work on the couch.
[8:44 AM] Let two fly. No smell.
[9:02 AM] Let another fly. Felt big. No smell.
[10:29 AM] Just released a good one in the car. No smell.
[10:40 AM] Arrived at church. Picked a seat in the middle of the room. Sat down. Assumed the position.
[11:02 AM] Letting fly. No smell.
[11:05 AM] Stood to sing. Assumed the position. No smell.
[11:10AM] Lauren looked at me, concerned. I told her I’ve been doing it all morning, no problems.
[11:13AM] Lauren is now singing with reckless abandon. Taking very deep breaths.
[11:30 AM] Still no smells.
[12:30 PM] Service is over. Had no issues with smells. Back to the drawing board.
And that’s how it went for the rest of the week.
Conclusions, results, etc.
The best way I can describe Shreddies–at least the flatulence-filtering ones–is to compare them to the American flag used at the battle of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812. This was the oversized one that withstood shot after shot from the British navy; the one that was still standing the next morning, and would go on to inspire Francis Scott Key to write the lyrics to our national anthem.
Because that’s exactly how it felt with these things.
No matter what I threw at them, or how often I did it, they held. It didn’t matter if you physically pumped hydrogen sulfide into my body, or forced me to jump on a trampoline after eating chili, the bastards weren’t going anywhere. They’re just that reliable.
The only downside I found–besides price and ease of washing–was with comfort, specifically with the hipsters. While the support boxer was cozy and reliable, I found the hipster to ride up terribly after sitting for a bit. Many times throughout the day I’d have to get up and adjust myself, which isn’t a problem when you work from home, but is if you’re in a corporate setting, or at a party with finger foods.
In summation, places/situations Shreddies are necessary if you have flatulence issues:
- First dates
- Car rides
- Flights of any length
- Bar mitzvahs/bat mitzvahs/quinceaneras
And situations Shreddies won’t work even if you don’t have flatulence issues:
- Hot yoga
- Movie dates where you eat half a bucket of popcorn
I attempted both of these and can tell you, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that no matter how good your flatulence-filtering underpants are, they will not withstand. Especially with the popcorn.
Gummy candy in excess is also a bad idea.