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10 Best Moisture Wicking Fabrics

If you like to live an active lifestyle, then I’m sure you hate being covered in sweat during the hot summer months. But sweat isn’t the only problem. You’ll also want fabrics that will keep you dry during rainy or snowy days, especially when it’s cold outside. Moisture-wicking fabrics are the solution. That’s exactly why I’ve created this guide to the all-around best moisture-wicking fabrics.

The 10 best moisture-wicking fabrics are:

  • Wool
  • Polyester
  • Polypropylene
  • Gore-Tex
  • Nylon
  • Bamboo
  • Modal
  • Acrylic
  • Rayon
  • Spandex

What you’ll notice about this list is that most of these moisture-wicking fabrics are synthetic. The reason that synthetic fabrics are good at wicking away moisture is that they are made to be that way. But the best moisture-wicking fabric is wool, a natural fabric. In this guide, we’ll look at how moisture-wicking fabrics work and what the differences are between all of these fabrics. Continue reading to learn more.

Moisture Wicking Fabrics

What Is a Moisture-Wicking Fabric?

A moisture-wicking fabric is a fabric that is designed to pull moisture away from the body. In other words, moisture-wicking fabrics are designed to keep you dry. You will want to wear moisture-wicking fabrics while doing activities that might cause you to sweat or be exposed to rain, snow, or water in some way.

When some people hear the term moisture-wicking, they automatically equate that to mean waterproof. This is not necessarily the case. It is true that some moisture-wicking fabrics may be more waterproof or resistant to water than others. But not all of these fabrics can be considered waterproof. Likewise, some of them may absorb more water than others and some may not absorb water at all.

With so many fabrics out there, it can be confusing to determine which ones are moisture-wicking and which ones aren’t. And it can also be difficult to understand the differences between water-resistant, waterproof, and moisture-absorbing. But don’t worry, I’ll explain all of these terms in more detail, so hopefully, this guide will make them easier to understand.

How Does Moisture-Wicking Fabric Work?

How Does Moisture Wicking Fabric Work

Moisture-wicking fabrics work due to a process called capillary action. When the fibers are woven together to create the fabric, tiny spaces are left in the fabric that allow moisture to escape. What happens is that the water or sweat can move through the fabric because of either the nature of the fibers or due to something that the fibers are coated with.

The reason that most moisture-wicking fabrics are made from synthetic materials is that the properties of the fibers can be changed. So either the structure of the fibers is altered to allow moisture to pass through more easily, or the fibers are treated with a chemical that doesn’t allow moisture into the fibers.

But what the fibers are made up of also plays an important role. That’s why even certain natural fabrics like wool are moisture-wicking. Certain fibers have natural moisture-wicking properties simply because there are substances that repel water found in them naturally. Now let’s look at why chemicals found in certain fabrics make a difference toward them being moisture-wicking.

What Are Moisture-Wicking Fabrics Made Of?

Since most moisture-wicking fabrics are synthetic, let’s first look at what synthetic fabrics, in general, are made of. A lot of the main chemicals used to make synthetic fibers contain oil in some form. Oil is said to be hydrophobic, which means that it will resist water.

This makes a lot of sense when you think about it. We’ve all heard the rule that says that oil and water don’t mix. That means that synthetic fibers are going to resist absorbing water and “push it away” instead. But that doesn’t mean that moisture-wicking fabrics won’t absorb any moisture at all. Remember, most of them aren’t completely waterproof.

Now let’s look at the only completely natural fiber on this list: wool. We all know that the main source of wool is sheep. Sheep’s wool naturally produces a waxy substance called lanolin that coats the fibers to help keep the sheep dry.

Waxy substances like lanolin contain oil as well. Because of this, moisture can’t pass through the fibers easily because the lanolin naturally pushes it away. Moisture stays on the surface of the fiber, where it can evaporate more easily.

Some of the moisture-wicking fabrics on this list are made up of natural fibers with some synthetic chemicals mixed in. They aren’t as effective as fully synthetic fabrics or wool because they are made of plant-based fibers. Plant fibers tend to absorb more water, but the oil-based chemicals mixed in help to wick away some of that moisture.

Sweat Wicking vs Breathable

It’s also important to understand that for a moisture-wicking fabric to be most effective, it needs to be both sweat-wicking and breathable. Some fabrics can be breathable, but they aren’t necessarily sweat-wicking.

Sweat-wicking fabrics are the best moisture-wicking fabrics because they allow sweat to evaporate quickly by pulling it away from your skin. When you wear these fabrics, you will stay cool and dry when it’s hot.

On the other hand, breathable fabrics allow air to circulate freely through the fibers. Moisture-wicking fabrics that are also breathable will allow sweat and water to evaporate even more quickly. But not all breathable fabrics are also moisture-wicking.

For example, cotton and linen are natural fabrics that are very breathable. But, they also absorb water since they are plant-based. You won’t be as dry when wearing them. Wool is also a natural fiber, but it is both breathable and sweat-wicking, which is why it is such an exceptional fabric.

Moisture Wicking Fabric Types

There are three main types of fabric: synthetic, semi-synthetic, and natural. Most moisture-wicking fabrics are synthetic because the fibers are made from petroleum and other chemicals. Since petroleum comes from oil, the fibers are better at wicking away moisture. Examples include polyester, polypropylene, and nylon.

There are a few moisture-wicking fabrics that are semi-synthetic as well. These are the fabrics that come from a natural source but have synthetic chemicals mixed in. Examples of these fabrics are bamboo and rayon. The fibers themselves are made from wood pulp mixed with oil-based chemicals. But because of the wood pulp, which absorbs water, they are not as great at wicking away moisture as synthetic fabrics are.

Natural fabrics are made up of fibers that come from a plant or animal source. Most of these fibers, especially the ones that are sourced from plants, are not moisture-wicking since plants have to absorb water to be able to survive. But as I’ve already explained, the exception to this is wool. Wool is a natural fiber that is also moisture-wicking due to the fibers being coated with lanolin.

Best Moisture Wicking Materials Comparison Table

The following table provides a brief comparison of the best moisture-wicking fabrics and what they are best used for:

RankFabricWickingBest For
1WoolHighWinter apparel
2PolyesterHighT-shirts, bed sheets
3PolypropyleneHighUpholstery, backpacks
4Gore-TexHighHiking jackets
5NylonHighRaincoats, windbreakers
6BambooModerateT-shirts, socks
7ModalModerateUnderwear, pajamas
8AcrylicModerateSocks
9RayonModerateSummer apparel
10SpandexModerateLeggings, bicycle shorts

10 Best Moisture-Wicking Fabrics

1. Wool (including Merino)

Icebreaker Merino Women's Tech Lite Short Sleeve Scoop Neck T-Shirt, Waterfall/Poppy Red Stripe, X-SmallWool tops the list of the best moisture-wicking fabrics because it has many other great qualities about it as well. Besides being moisture-wicking, wool is also a sustainable fabric that doesn’t harm the environment to produce it.

Wool is also great at regulating heat, odor-resistant, and soft. The best moisture-wicking wool fabric is Merino wool, which is softer and warmer than other types of wool.

The only downside to wool is that since it is a warm fabric, it is only ideal for winter. Although it is breathable, you can still overheat if you wear it during the summer. Wool is also more expensive than other fabrics and it isn’t as durable.

2. Polyester

BALEAF Women's UPF 50+ Sun Protection T-Shirt Long Sleeve Half-Zip Thumb Hole Outdoor Performance Purple Size SPolyester is the most versatile fabric on this list because it is moisture-wicking, durable, and wrinkle and shrink-resistant. It is also one of the most affordable fabrics on this list. Polyester is used in everything from t-shirts to pants and even bedsheets.

The downside to polyester is that it is a synthetic fabric, which isn’t as good for the environment.

Polyester also tends to hold onto odors. If you wear it for activities in which you sweat a lot, you will need to wash it more frequently.

3. Polypropylene

40in Hanes Non Woven Polypropylene Furniture Spring Cover/Back Liner Black Fabric by The YardPolypropylene is made in much the same way as polyester, so it is moisture-wicking and very durable. It is also one of the quickest-drying fabrics. Some of the main uses for polypropylene are for backpacks and outdoor furniture upholstery. You don’t want your outdoor furniture cushions to retain moisture because they contribute to mold and mildew growth.

Polypropylene is also used for some types of clothing, such as outerwear. However, one of the negative things about it is that it isn’t as lightweight or soft as some of the other fabrics on this list. Polypropylene also tends to retain odors and it is synthetic, so it isn’t the best choice for people who prefer sustainable fabrics.

4. Gore-Tex

Spyder Active Sports Men's U.S. Ski Team, Team GORE-TEX Ski Jacket, Black, SmallGore-Tex is one of the unique fabrics on this list. It is a synthetic fabric, but it is extremely porous.

Every square inch of Gore-Tex fabric contains nine billion pores. Each pore is 20,000 times smaller than a single drop of water.

That means that Gore-Tex has one characteristic that most of the other fabrics on this list don’t have: it is waterproof. That’s why it is used for jackets and shoes typically worn for hiking and other outdoor adventures. However, Gore-Tex is one of the most expensive synthetic moisture-wicking fabrics.

5. Nylon

emma kites Dark Green Ripstop Nylon Fabric 1.4Oz yd² 60'x108'(WxL) 40D Water Repellent Windproof Dustproof Airtight PU Coating - Outdoor Fabric for Kites Inflatable Duffel Bag Flag Cover HammockNylon is one of the stretchier fabrics on this list, and it is also lightweight, so it is used for a lot of workout clothing. But it also dries very quickly and is one of the most water-resistant fabrics on this list. That’s why a lot of rain jackets and windbreakers are made from nylon as well.

There are a couple of downsides to nylon, however. The first con is that although nylon is moisture-wicking, it isn’t the most breathable. I’ve already mentioned how important it is for moisture-wicking fabrics to be breathable as well. The other con to nylon is that it can retain odors, so frequent washing is a must.

6. Bamboo

Bedsure 100% Bamboo Sheets Queen Grey - Deep Pocket Queen Sheets Set Up to 18 inches Mattress , Cooling Sheets Set 4PCs for Queen Size Bed Super Soft BreathableBamboo is a semi-synthetic fabric, so it is not as moisture-wicking as the fabrics that have been mentioned so far. But since bamboo is a plant, it is a more sustainable fabric choice. And of the semi-synthetic fabrics on the list, bamboo is the best.

That’s because, in addition to being moisture-wicking, bamboo has a very soft texture and it is also great at keeping you cool. It’s quickly becoming a popular fabric choice for workout t-shirts. The downside to bamboo is that it is more expensive than some of the other fabrics mentioned so far.

7. Modal

Micro Modal Spandex Fabric Jersey Knit Camel #B 4 Way Stretch by The Yard 2/6/17Modal is a semi-synthetic fabric that is a type of rayon. But modal is softer than rayon and has a silky feel to it. It is only moderately good at wicking away moisture, but it is one of the more breathable fabrics on this list.

Modal is used for pajamas, so it’s a good choice for people who tend to sweat in their sleep. It is sweat-wicking and breathable, which will keep you cool and dry. The downside to modal is that the silky texture can pill easily, so you may need to take extra steps to prevent or remove pills when washing and drying them.

8. Acrylic

Acrylic FabricAcrylic is a synthetic fiber, so it does have moisture-wicking properties like other synthetic fibers on this list.

It is sometimes used as a synthetic alternative to wool.

However, the problem with acrylic is that the fibers usually aren’t used by themselves, so they may be mixed with other fibers.

Acrylic is a popular choice to use for making synthetic wool socks.

9. Rayon

rayon fabricRayon is another semi-synthetic fabric that is made from tree bark.

But it is pretty far down on this list because it isn’t as moisture-wicking as synthetic fibers and it is the least moisture-wicking of the semi-synthetic fibers.

Rayon is a good fabric to wear in hot temperatures where there isn’t much humidity and you won’t sweat as much. It is more breathable than it is moisture-wicking.

10. Spandex

SpandexAlthough spandex is one of the most popular fabrics for workout clothing, it is not the most breathable or the best at wicking away moisture.

We can call it moderately moisture-wicking because it will keep you somewhat dry.

The most favorable quality of spandex for athletic wear is that it can stretch up to eight times its size.

But spandex can also hold onto odors, including sweat odors, since it isn’t the most moisture-wicking.

Moisture Wicking vs Moisture Absorbing vs Waterproof

Many people think that moisture-wicking means that the fabric is completely waterproof, but this isn’t entirely the case. Moisture-wicking fabrics can be described as water-resistant, not waterproof. Now there are some fabrics like Gore-Tex that are more waterproof than others, but all fabrics can become saturated if they get wet enough.

Moisture-wicking fabrics will do a good job of resisting water under normal circumstances. But at some point, they can start to absorb water until they become saturated. Natural and semi-synthetic fabrics are more prone to absorb water than synthetic fabrics.

But the point at which a fabric becomes saturated is different for each fabric. For example, wool can absorb around 30% of its weight before becoming saturated. It just depends on what the fabric is made of. That’s why some fabrics are more moisture-wicking than others.

Do Moisture-Wicking Clothes Show Sweat?

Although moisture-wicking fabrics are generally sweat-resistant, they can show sweat. And some fabrics will show sweat more than others. The reason why you can still see sweat is that sweat is made up of a combination of water and body oils.

When it rains on moisture-wicking fabric, then water is the only type of moisture that evaporates. But when you sweat while wearing moisture-wicking fabric, both the water and oils have to evaporate. Water is wicked away more than the oils because the fibers won’t absorb as much water.

However, they will absorb some of the oil, especially synthetic fibers that contain more oil-based chemicals in their fibers. Absorbed oil can leave behind stains and odors. That’s why most synthetic fabrics on the list retain odors more than wool and semi-synthetic fabrics.

How Effective Are Sweat-Resistant Fabrics?

Most fabrics that are sweat-resistant are very effective. Remember, they are designed to be that way. But as always, higher quality fabrics will be better at resisting sweat and moisture than lower quality ones. That’s why Merino wool is one of the best moisture-wicking fabrics you can buy. It is both sweat and odor-resistant and it is a high quality fabric.

Conclusion

Wool in general, but particularly Merino wool, is the best moisture-wicking fabric you can buy. But most synthetic fabrics are great at moisture wicking as well. Remember that the best moisture-wicking fabrics will be breathable as well. But these fabrics may not be waterproof. Keep in mind your purpose when deciding on a moisture-wicking fabric to make the best choice. If you enjoyed this article, be sure to share it and leave a comment. Thanks for reading!