THURSDAY, Sept. 1, 2016 (HealthDay News) — Stanford University engineers may have paved the way for the coolest clothes ever.

The researchers developed a plastic-based textile that could be woven into fabric for clothing to help people in hot climates stay cool without air conditioning. They say the new material cools the body better than synthetic or natural fabrics used to make clothes today.

"If you can cool the person rather than the building where they work or live, that will save energy," researcher Yi Cui said in a Stanford news release. Cui is an associate professor of materials science and engineering and of photon science.

Wearers would feel nearly 4 degrees Fahrenheit cooler in the new material than in cotton clothing, according to the report.

The new material is based on the same clear, clingy plastic substance you probably use every day to wrap leftovers: polyethylene.

Like ordinary fabrics, the new material lets perspiration evaporate through it. But it also lets body heat emitted as harmless infrared radiation pass through it, the researchers explained.

According to Shanhui Fan, a professor of electrical engineering, "40 to 60 percent of our body heat is dissipated as infrared radiation when we are sitting in an office. But until now there has been little or no research on designing the thermal radiation characteristics of textiles."

The research team is continuing work to add more colors, textures and cloth-like characteristics to their new material.

In addition, Fan suggested that this research may lead to new ways to cool or heat things without the use of outside energy, by tuning materials to either release or trap infrared radiation.

"In hindsight, some of what we've done looks very simple, but it's because few have really been looking at engineering the radiation characteristics of textiles," he said.

The study findings were published Sept. 1 in the journal Science.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has resources on extreme heat and health.