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“Moisture wicking” has moved beyond athletic apparel to business casuals because of its superior comfort. There has been an explosion in the market over the past few years. The number of brands and styles available could drive a person batty, and the quality varies so much from brand to brand that it’s hard to make the right choice.

Some brands even have proprietary moisture wicking fabric, such as the Dri-Fit line of apparel from Nike.

The best moisture wicking garments are typically made of lightweight synthetic fabric that is tightly weaved. The material should feel smooth and thin (but not weak). Good moisture-wicking material will keep you comfortable even on swelteringly hot days. Here’s how.

The Mechanics of Moisture Wicking

Our bodies sweat as a natural mechanism to cool down. Heat generated from working muscles is transported to the skin’s surface via sweat. When sweat permeates regular fabrics, like cotton t-shirts, the moisture stays in, and we can feel the wet fabric on our skin. As the fabric is pressed onto our skin, it creates even more discomfort. This is the problem that moisture-wicking materials aims to address.

Moisture-wicking fabrics are designed to accept moisture on the skin, then transport it to its outer layer so that it has a chance to evaporate. This keeps the skin dry (as in, not over-wet) and comfortable.

Moisture-Wicking Performance is Where Garments Differ

How well and fast that fabric is able to wick sweat from the skin to the surface where it is released, determines the level of its moisture-wicking performance. Wicking performance is a function of capillary pressure and permeability.

  • Capillary pressure—force that moves moisture along or through a fabric as a result of the surface tension between the sweat/moisture and the walls of a narrow gap or pore that overcomes the forces between the molecules of the moisture, transporting it into empty gaps until the forces even out.
  • Permeability—the fabric’s ability to transport moisture through itself; this is determined by a combination of sizes of spaces within it and the connections between the spaces.

Other properties that affect the wicking properties of a fabric include:

  • Yarn twist—how threads in the fabric turn around each other
  • Contact angle—the angle of contact between the fiber and the liquid
  • Knit or weave
  • Yarn roughness

Yarns that repel moisture (hydrophobic) are weaved in such a manner that they form a multitude of small ducts. The sweat is forced into these ducts, and surface tension pulls moisture up to the surface, where it evaporates.

The smaller the ducts, the greater the distance the moisture will travel. This is why thinner and tighter-weaved fabrics will perform the best.

Materials Used for Moisture-Wicking: Which is Best?

The best materials are those that do not absorb moisture through swelling of its ducts. Rayon does this. Polyester does not, so polyester is a better choice for moisture wicking.

Natural fibers such as cotton have very irregular ducts. In this case, polyester is superior as well, because of its regularity.

Poly-Cotton Blends?

There are some garments labeled as moisture wicking that are made of a polyester-cotton blend. They are typically lower in cost. Generally, these garments are chemically treated through dipping or spraying the garment. The chemical does the job of pulling moisture from the body and forcing it out to the garment’s surface.

This chemical treatment will eventually dissipate over time, as you repeatedly wear and wash the garment. Chemically treated garments, therefore, have poor moisture-wicking performance.

Announcing Two New Nike Dri-FIT Business Casual Polos

We stock the most advanced moisture-wicking business casual polos from Nike.

Available now:

  • Nike Golf Dri-FIT Engineered Mesh Polo (632418)
  • Nike Golf Dri-FIT Embossed Polo (632412)

Call us today at 407-438-8188 or contact us online for more information. We will be happy to find the perfect product for your specific needs.

The main source of information in this article was obtained from Craig B. Simile’s thesis titled Critical Evaluation of Wicking in Performance fabrics – Nov 2004.