Free Shipping Over $50!

  • Wide Selection & Deep Inventory

  • Fast Fulfillment & Service

  • Free Shipping over $50 & Free Returns

Moisture Wicking Fabric: What Is It and How Does It Work?

Moisture Wicking Fabric: What Is It and How Does It Work?

Nicole Rollender |

Moisture wicking apparel is the standard for workout shirts and casual t-shirts that keep you cool and dry no matter what you’re doing. It’s one thing to understand a wicking shirt at a basic level: that it pulls sweat away from your body. It’s another thing to understand exactly how the fabric structure and technology works, and why moisture wicking styles are such a great addition to your wardrobe. Get a crash course in everything you need to know about moisture wicking t-shirts.

What Does Moisture Wicking Mean?

Moisture Wicking vs. Dri-Fit

Many apparel brands have trademarked names for their moisture wicking technology, but these fabrications still use the same principles of moisture wicking. These shirts all wick moisture away from your body, allowing your sweat to evaporate fast to keep you dry and comfortable. Here are some names you might recognize.

Nike Dri-Fit: This special tech fabric pushes sweat away from your body and onto the fabric surface, where it evaporates. Shirts made with Dri-Fit are designed to give you a dry, comfortable feeling with total range of motion, no matter what you’re doing. This Nike fabric contains polyester microfibers and antibacterial elements that stop odors. Dri-Fit shirts also have body mapping, or mesh panels in key places to enhance airflow and breathability.

Under Armour HeatGear: This moisture-wicking fabric gets used in Under Armour’s sports performance lines. HeatGear is a lightweight material that’s designed to keep you cool and dry in hot weather and climes.

Champion Double Dry: Champion’s DoubleDry technology wicks sweat away from your body. This brand’s moisture wicking shirts also come with FreshIQ, an odor protection technology that eliminates odor-causing bacteria, so you smell great all day. Browse Threadsy’s selection of wholesale Champion clothing

How Do Moisture Wicking Shirts Work?

Moisture-wicking shirts, usually made of polyester, pull moisture and sweat away from your skin, to keep you dry and cool. These fabrics are also lighter and more breathable than other natural and synthetic fibers, making them perfect for any sweaty activity.

So how does it actually work? The moisture-wicking fabric pulls moisture away from your skin through a process called capillary action. The fabric, like your skin, actually has small passages, or capillaries, that pull sweat away from your body and toward the fabric’s surface. When the sweat hits the shirt’s surface, it disperses and evaporates quickly into the air.

Apparel suppliers produce better and better wicking fabrics by restructuring the yarns and using different wicking treatments to those structures within and on top of the fabric. For example, a manufacturer can apply a hydrophilic finish to the inside of the shirt. This finish wicks the moisture away from your body to the shirt’s surface even faster.

Before synthetic moisture-wicking shirts came on the scene, cotton t-shirts were the top choices for strenuous physical activity. Cotton absorbs (and retains) a lot more moisture than polyester. In fact, cotton can absorb 7% of its own weight vs. polyester at 0.4%. The problem with cotton, though, is that it takes much longer to dry than polyester. A cotton shirt will feel heavy and wet on your skin longer, whereas a polyester moisture wicking shirt will whisk the sweat away from your skin quickly, dispersing it into the air.

What Are the Benefits of Moisture Wicking Clothing?

There are many reasons why you’d choose a moisture wicking shirt, which we’re going to list out for you right here.

Keeps You Cool and Dry: As you’ve already learned, lightweight moisture wicking shirts pull sweat and moisture away from your skin, to keep you comfortable and cool. This is great during the warmer months.

You might not also realize that these shirts can keep you warm during cooler weather. That’s because your shirt will stay dry and warm as a base layer. If you sweat while wearing a cotton t-shirt in cooler weather, your base layer will be colder and wetter longer. That’s why many winter athletes choose a wicking shirt as their base layer, so they don’t risk hypothermia.

Breathable: The capillary structure of the fabric also makes moisture-wicking shirts more breathable, since air flows in for extra comfort.

Antimicrobial: Another benefit of a wicking shirt is that it has antimicrobial properties. After a long sweaty workout, your shirt is less likely to smell like body odor. In addition, since the shirt wicks away moisture, your clothing will stop bacterial growth before it even starts.

Easy Care: Wicking shirts are machine washable. These synthetic fabrics also resist shrinking, pilling and fading, like some cotton shirts. The wicking performance features also are designed to last the life of the shirt. Some wicking shirts even have stain release properties that require less water and detergent when you wash them.

Pro Tip: Don’t use fabric softener, since it can damage the moisture wicking effectiveness.

Available in Fashion-Forward (and Sleep) Styles: You’ll find moisture-wicking fabrics in athletic shirts, casual t-shirts, athleisure, loungewear and even sleep wear. That way, you can enjoy breathable fabrics 24/7.

What Kind of Fabric Is Moisture Wicking?

A moisture wicking primer wouldn’t be complete without a list of the best wicking fabrics. Most moisture wicking fabric types are synthetics because they’re hydrophobic, or resist absorbing water. That’s why synthetics like polyester or nylon are considered great wicking fabrics. As you’ve learned, many big athletic brands have trademarked their moisture wicking fabric technology, like Nike’s Dri-Fit or Under Armour’s HeatGear.

Polyester: This is the top synthetic material you’ll find in moisture wicking shirts. That’s because it’s lightweight, breathable and pulls moisture to the fabric surface, rather than holding onto it. When polyester is blended with other materials, it’s a perfect choice for durable, quick-drying activewear. Generally, 100% polyester shirts have similar moisture wicking effect as performance shirts that are specifically designed with moisture wicking technology. That means if you select a 50% polyester fabric, you’ll still enjoy the moisture wicking benefits of the synthetic.

Nylon: Like polyester, this breathable synthetic material is another top pick for moisture wicking fabrics that keep you cool and dry during sweaty workouts. 

Polypropylene: Here’s another popular moisture wicking fabric that’s lightweight and breathable. Polypropylene also has thermal properties, so it’s a great fabric for cold weather athletics.

Wool or Merino Wool: Wool is a unique natural fabric that’s moisture wicking. This fabric, made from sheep hair, does absorb some moisture, but also releases moisture from small openings in the fabric. The fabric surface stays dry to the touch even if you’re sweating. That’s because wool fibers are naturally crimped, so they create a similar structure to the capillaries in moisture wicking fabrics.

Bamboo: This is another natural fiber that has moisture wicking properties. Bamboo fibers absorb moisture and move them to the fabric surface. In addition, this fiber is hypoallergenic and anti-mold, so it’s a healthier alternative to wear. It comes from a fast-growing plant so it’s readily available.

A word about cotton, often considered the “anti-moisture-wicking” fabric: In contrast to the other synthetic and natural fabrics you’ve learned about, cotton absorbs sweat and then takes a while  to dry. That means, you’ll feel hot and sticky, or cool and clammy. You’ll find some cotton fabrics that have been treated with moisture wicking agents, but they still lag behind their better wicking counterparts.

Moisture Wicking FAQs

If you’ve still got questions about moisture-wicking garments, we’ve got answers to the most commonly asked queries we get.

Is 100% Polyester Breathable?

Yes. Most workout apparel contains polyester fabric because it’s lightweight and breathable. Polyester is water-repellent so your sweat evaporates, rather than soaking into the fabric and staying wet on your skin.

Does All Polyester Wick Moisture?

Yes. Polyester is a hydrophobic fabric by nature, so it only absorbs 0.4% of its body weight in water.

Is Moisture Wicking the Same as Waterproof?

No. A moisture wicking shirt is designed to pull sweat or moisture that’s already inside the garment to the fabric surface so it can dry and disperse quickly. A waterproof garment is designed to keep moisture, like rain, out, so it doesn’t penetrate the material.

Is Moisture Wicking Better Than Cotton?

Yes, if you want to stay cool and dry while you’re working out, in all weathers. Cotton fabric absorbs 7% of its body weight in water, and takes a while to dry out. That means if you’re sweating in hot or cold weather, you’ll be wearing a moist layer longer. That’s not comfortable. On the other hand, a moisture wicking shirt is designed to keep you cool and dry when you’re working out, whether it’s summer or winter.

How Should I Care For Moisture Wicking Clothing?

It’s safe to machine wash and dry wicking apparel. Read the label to see if there are any special instructions to follow. In general, machine wash your wicking clothing inside out in cold water. When you dry a moisture-wicking shirt, don’t use a high heat setting. Instead, tumble dry your t-shirts on low heat or air dry them. If you need to iron a wicking garment, use a cool setting.

However, in all cases, avoid bleach as well as liquid and dryer sheet fabric softener. If you use a softener, it adds a waxy coating to the fabric surface, which interferes with the shirt’s ability to wick moisture and sweat away from your skin. 

What Are the Best Moisture Wicking Shirts?

Glad you asked! Threadsy carries a great mix of moisture wicking shirts for different occasions, along with t-shirt brands that you know and love.
Check out these popular styles for men, women and children: