What Does Moisture-Wicking Mean?
If you’ve spent any amount of time looking for activewear, you’ve probably heard the term moisture-wicking thrown around. It’s likely to come up in the same conversations as t-shirts or hoodies with breathability, workout clothes with cold weather resistance, or water-resistant jackets.
Moisture-wicking clothes are one of the biggest trends in athletic wear right now. They’re fantastic for regulating your body temperature, avoiding chafing, and staying comfortable while working out.
Despite being a popular buzzword (and an important performance feature), many people probably couldn’t tell you exactly what sweat-wicking or moisture-wicking mean.
Today, our Tasc Performance experts are here to clear things up. We’re going to answer the biggest moisture-wicking questions you may be asking.
Let’s jump right in!
How Does Moisture-Wicking Fabric Work?
Moisture-wicking is a hot topic in the fashion world today, especially as athleisure styles continue to dominate trends.
However, the term is often mixed up with other features. Moisture-wicking isn’t the same concept as moisture-absorbing or quick-drying materials. Both of those factors do contribute to moisture-wicking, and many fabrics only do one of them well.
In this case, a job half done is a job not done at all.
True moisture-wicking is all about pulling sweat from your skin and causing it to evaporate so that both you and your clothes stay dry.
The primary agent in this effect is called capillary action, a phenomenon also found in trees, skin, and natural wonders all around us.
Moisture-wicking fabrics have tubes similar to the tubes in your skin. These tubes draw moisture away from your skin and through the tiny spaces in the fabric. The moisture is then released from the fabric exterior as vapor into the air.
Which Fabrics Are Moisture-Wicking?
Moisture-wicking capabilities can be found in natural and synthetic fibers, but not all are created equal.
Before we talk about the materials that do wick moisture, let’s quickly mention materials that don’t (but often find themselves attributed as moisture-wicking anyway). There’s one major culprit here: cotton.
Most of us know that traditional cotton isn’t exactly a performance material. You wouldn’t choose a cotton long sleeve shirt to wear running, after all.
However, a quick internet search still finds plenty of pages claiming that cotton is a moisture-wicking material. Let’s clear up any misunderstandings.
Cotton is a moisture-absorbing material and an excellent one at that! Like a sponge, it easily draws in water (or sweat).
However, cotton is notoriously bad at drying. If you’ve ever tried to play a sport in a cotton t-shirt, your sweat-soaked memories should remind you of exactly what we’re talking about.
Bamboo and Cotton Blends
To turn cotton into a performance material, it needs to blend with a fabric that has incredible potential for both sides of the moisture-wicking coin: absorbing and drying.
The best material for both is bamboo. One of the best fabrics overall (and our personal favorite here at Tasc Performance), bamboo fabric comes from the fastest-growing tree in the world by the same name.
Bamboo trees grow in extremely wet environments and need to go through a lot of water to grow as fast as they do.
In fabric form, bamboo is one of the best moisture-wickers out there. It’s also incredibly breathable, odor-resistant, wrinkle-resistant, hypoallergenic, and soft to the touch (often compared to a silk-cotton hybrid). To top it all off, it’s super sustainable, too.
At Tasc Performance, we blend bamboo with organic cotton, which is a higher quality alternative to traditional cotton that also fixes cotton’s sustainability problems. This all results in a fabric that can absorb moisture and dry off with exceptional efficiency without harming the environment.
Wool is another natural fabric that wicks moisture well, especially when it's knit into french terry.
Wool isn’t particularly common in workout clothing. In fact, you’re more likely to see wool’s moisture-wicking in action in a french terry wool towel.
However, wool does bring this crucial performance quality to styles such as athleisure joggers, casual clothes for winter, and loungewear. Since people sweat in many situations outside of exercise, it's still important that all clothes come equipped to handle sweat — which is where wool’s moisture-wicking really shines.
Polyester is likely the most common moisture-wicking material today, but it’s far from the best. Like other synthetic fabrics, including rayon, polypropylene, and spandex, polyester is designed specifically for functions such as moisture-wicking, but it relies largely on chemical treatments.
These chemicals are added to enhance the material’s hydrophobic qualities, but the chemicals can be harmful to the skin for many people and are always harmful to the environment.
Along with poor sustainability, synthetic fabrics also trap odor over time. The stench from bacteria mixed with sweat is absorbed into the material, but synthetic fibers cling to them, even through multiple washes. This results in shorter life cycles, making these materials' pollution problems worse.
Nylon is another synthetic fabric, like polyester, that wicks moisture. Unfortunately, it poses major environmental problems, as most synthetic fabrics do.
Also, like polyester, nylon is made from petroleum. Fossil fuels like petroleum are non-renewable resources and contribute greatly to carbon emissions.
Considering the massive size of the clothing industry worldwide and the carbon contributions it makes, it’s clear that these kinds of materials aren’t an acceptable way forward, even if they have some seemingly convenient features.
What’s the Best Moisture-Wicking Fabric To Wear?
While most of the moisture-wicking fabrics discussed above have some problems or limitations, one stands out above the rest: bamboo.
This eco-friendly, human-friendly, and all-natural material is an absolute powerhouse. Bamboo has performance qualities, wicks moisture better than all others, and even has a soft touch like silk and cotton.
We really can’t get enough of bamboo. Once you try it, it may also be your new favorite fabric, too.
What Are the Benefits of Moisture-Wicking Fabric?
There’s a lot of big talk about moisture-wicking, but does it really live up to the hype?
Frankly, few things are more impactful to how a piece of clothing feels and performs than moisture-wicking capabilities.
Get Better Odor Control
Body odor is a problem that every person faces to some degree. Antiperspirant and deodorant can only go so far in helping control it. One of the best tools in the fight against sweat and odor is moisture-wicking material.
Body odor occurs when bacteria build up around sweat on your skin. When there’s less sweat to be found, thanks to moisture-wicking, there’s less body odor. It’s as simple as that!
With bamboo, you also get the added bonus of odor resistance, which prevents odors from becoming trapped and reduces the freshness of your clothes even after washing.
Stay Comfortable While Working Out
Studies show that the effects of moisture-wicking shirts, shorts, and other clothing can help fight against overheating during exercise.
A shirt that’s full of water and sweat naturally weighs you down more than one that’s dry and light. In addition to the thermoregulatory benefits of moisture-wicking workout clothes, there are also comfort and efficiency benefits, too.
Make Laundry Day Easy
Cotton clothes that have absorbed sweat but never released the sweat can be quite an unpleasant encounter on laundry day. Plus, like with synthetic fabrics, they may not even smell any better after the wash is complete!
Switching to high-quality moisture-wicking materials that are also odor-resistant — namely bamboo — is the best way to make laundry day easy.
Upgrade Your Wardrobe With Tasc Performance
Here at Tasc Performance, we prioritize function, fashion, and sustainability. Each style is made to the highest standards, from our Carrollton Fitness Tee to our Allways Pocket Leggings and beyond. If you want to upgrade your wardrobe, we hope you’ll consider our styles the perfect place to start!
For more helpful guides like this one, be sure to check back frequently with our Tasc Performance blog.
Capillary Action and Water | U.S. Geological Survey
Toxicity of Synthetic Fibres & Health | Austin Publishing Group
Fossil fuels and climate change: the facts | ClientEarth
Analysis of sweat evaporation from clothing materials by the ventilated sweat capsule method | National Library of Medicine