Ask A Scientist

What kind of carbon is used in scent-lock suits for hunting?

Asked by: Tim Butts
School: Sidney High School
Grade: 12
Teacher: David Pysnik
Hobbies/Interests: Hunting, volunteer fire fighter for Masonville Fire Department
Career Interest: Fire fighter in the United States Marine Corps

Answer from James A. Dix

Associate professor of chemistry, Binghamton Unive

Research area: Biophysical chemistry; transport through biological membranes; educational technology

Ph.D. school: University of California, Los Angeles
Educational background: NIH Postdoctoral Fellow, Harvard Medical School; Research Fellow, Cardiovascular Research Institute, University of California, San Francisco; Visiting Scientist, Theoretical Biology and Biophysics, Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Family: Married; two children in college

Interests/hobbies: Old English sports cars and motorcycles; model trains; computer programming; socializing

Web page

I'm not much of a hunter, so I went down to Dick's in Vestal to look around at their hunting clothes. According to the tags on scent-lock clothing, there is a layer of activated carbon sandwiched between two layers of cloth. The activated carbon is supposed to absorb human body odor, thereby increasing the chances of sneaking up on animals that have a sensitive noses. Activated carbon is the same substance that is used in water filtration devices to absorb odor-causing chemicals from drinking water. Carbon is a chemical element. It comes in different forms: the "lead" in pencils, diamonds, and charcoal are all different forms of carbon. Activated carbon is like charcoal, except that it has a huge number of nooks and crannies and pores. Molecules like those that cause odor wander around these nooks and crannies get stuck. Eventually, all the places that molecules can bind to get filled up, and the carbon has to be reactivated. This is done for scent-lock clothing by heating the clothing in a clothes dryer. The heat from the clothes dryer drives out the molecules from the pores and makes the carbon ready to absorb a new set of molecules. The surface area in activated charcoal is huge. If you took the all the surface of just seven pounds of activated charcoal and flattened it out, you could blanket the town of Sidney.

Last Updated: 3/1/17