Sweat-Wicking Fabrics: How Do They Work?
For many of us, a common daily routine includes a workout, a commute, time in the office, time out with friends in the evening, and a period of relaxation at home.
This is all thanks to our active lifestyles, which are becoming more and more prevalent in modern times. Life is fast-paced, and its challenges are diverse — we all need clothing with features that can keep up.
Fashion trends such as athleisure are a testament to this need. Combining the best of athletic performance and luxurious comfort, the best athleisure clothes can be worn throughout your day and handle every situation with exceptional ease.
There are some key qualities that make this possible, one of which is the focus of our guide today: moisture-wicking (also known as sweat-wicking).
We’re talking about how sweat-wicking works, why it matters, and which clothes you should try to see the best of the feature in action — especially with our Tasc Performance innovative fabrics.
Let’s dive right in!
What Is Moisture-Wicking?
It’s common to hear about moisture-wicking properties, breathability, and cold weather resistance in clothes like hoodies, sweaters, long-sleeve tees, leggings, and even short-sleeve t-shirts. However, you might often hear the term “moisture-wicking capabilities” misused since it is commonly misunderstood or mixed up with moisture absorption.
The first thing to note is the key difference between moisture-wicking and moisture-absorbing. Types of fabric like microfiber are well known for absorbing moisture. The difference is that the best moisture-wicking fabrics are quick to release any moisture they absorb.
It all comes down to something called capillary action. Like your skin, moisture-wicking fabrics have tubes that work to draw moisture from your skin (such as sweat or water) through the fabric. It’s then moved out of the exterior of the fabric where it is released as vapor into the air.
Materials that absorb moisture but don’t dry quickly are not moisture-wicking. This ability to absorb moisture while drying quickly is commonly associated with exercise performance clothes, and with good reason. Studies show that the effects of moisture-wicking fabrics can help fight against overheating during exercise. Some of these materials that push away moisture are natural fabrics, while others are synthetic materials.
Even the weight of your clothes can make a significant difference in your workout, especially for high-performance athletes. A shirt that’s full of water and sweat naturally weighs you down more than one that’s dry and light.
Which Fabrics Help Wick Sweat?
There is often a misunderstanding when it comes to which fabrics actually wick moisture and sweat.
For example, cotton is notorious for absorbing sweat and water well but taking forever to dry. This is why cotton typically isn’t touted as an activewear material. However, it’s common to hear people talk about cotton as moisture-wicking when they actually mean moisture-absorbing.
So, which fabrics actually wick moisture? Synthetic fibers are the most common moisture-wicking options. Wool can also be moisture-wicking, especially knit fabrics such as french terry wool. In the sustainable fashion world, the best material for moisture-wicking is bamboo.
Does Polyester Wick Sweat?
Polyester and similar synthetic fabrics such as rayon, polypropylene, and Spandex are perhaps the most commonly available and functional moisture-wicking fabrics. For some time now, these traditional synthetics have been used for base layers and outer layers in the world of activewear and athleisure.
Since these fabrics can be made cheaply and perform much better than cotton in terms of drying, they have become highly popular. However, there are downsides.
Most synthetic fabrics like polyester require chemical treatments and often receive chemical finishes to enhance their hydrophobic qualities. These chemicals can be harmful to the skin for many people and are always harmful to the environment.
Another major downside to most synthetic fabrics is that they trap odor over time. Even after washing, these materials tend to develop a lingering stench. This has been one of the biggest drawbacks to moisture-wicking clothes since their inception, but powerful natural materials like bamboo are changing the game.
Does Bamboo Wick Sweat?
The true superstar of moisture-wicking materials is bamboo.
Bamboo is the fastest growing tree on earth, and part of that growing process involves lots and lots of water. One of bamboo’s many strengths is its ability to absorb moisture quickly and effectively. With the right construction, bamboo dries very quickly, too, making it an excellent moisture-wicking material.
At Tasc Performance, we’re proud to create bamboo fabric with a process that preserves the powerful natural properties of bamboo without any chemical finishes.
Because bamboo is exceptionally breathable, its qualities work together to help your body thermoregulate during exercise.
To top things off, bamboo is naturally odor-resistant, super soft to the touch, hypoallergenic, wrinkle-resistant, and even resistant to the sun’s radiation up to UPF 50+. You’ll stay drier, cooler, and more comfortable in bamboo than in any synthetic fabric.
Check out the Carrollton Fitness T-Shirt and the rest of the Carrollton collection to see how bamboo truly makes a difference.
Does Micro Modal Fabric Wick Sweat?
Micro modal fabrics are a unique type of semi-synthetic fabric made from beechwood, another highly sustainable and efficient tree. This material is exceptionally good at moisture-wicking and can also be produced sustainably, unlike synthetics such as traditional polyester.
Micro modal fabrics are particularly well known for their high capacity for absorbing moisture — up to 50% more than cotton. Some micro modal fabrics might be made with chemical treatments and finishes, but others are sustainably produced and still perform with excellent absorption and quick-drying capabilities.
Micro modal fabrics are also incredibly soft, and they’re often compared to silk or linen. Imagine the comfort of your favorite nightgown in a trendy everyday style that performs during exercise better than common activewear.
Sound too good to be true? Try our Recess Tech T to see just how effective it really is!
Does Elastane Wick Sweat?
Elastane (also called spandex or Lycra) is a synthetic fabric made from polyurethane with incredible elasticity. Activewear with elastic bands or stretch capabilities often uses elastane to achieve these qualities.
Elastane is not quite as excellent at moisture-wicking as bamboo or micro-modal fabrics, but it still does much better than cotton. When combined with bamboo or micro-modals, the result can be top-performance level activewear that’s flexible, comfortable, and temperature regulating.
Are These Fabrics Good for the Environment?
A common criticism of moisture-wicking clothing is that the materials used aren’t good for the environment.
Unsustainable practices in the fashion world are indeed a problem, but we can move towards a better, more sustainable future with modern innovations and ethical brand practices.
Moisture-wicking materials don’t have to be unsustainable. Traditional synthetic fabrics such as polyester create numerous problems, thanks to chemicals, water waste, and microplastics. However, recycled polyester is one way we can combat these problems while also continuing to use and improve these materials.
The real heart of the solution lies in natural materials such as bamboo and beechwood. Since these materials are highly sustainable and even better at moisture-wicking than synthetic fabrics, it’s truly a win-win.
Here at Tasc Performance, we’re proud to use these materials in our signature fabric blends, along with other sustainable practices that benefit the communities involved and the earth we all share.
Moisture-wicking is an essential quality for the best activewear and athleisure apparel, but it's important to consider the costs that traditional moisture-wicking materials might have, and look to better materials for the future.
For all the latest innovations and sustainable activewear guides, Tasc Performance has got you covered.
Analysis of Sweat Evaporation From Clothing Materials by the Ventilated Sweat Capsule Method | National Library of Medicine
Toxicity of Synthetic Fibres & Health | Austin Publishing Group