Do you dread the hot, sticky feel of sweaty clothes clinging to your skin in the summer? If you’re a runner or someone who suffers from night sweats, you know what it’s like to end a run with a clammy shirt or wake up tangled in damp sheets. The good news is, these days you can easily find clothes and bedding made from a wide range of the most breathable fabric on the market!
Breathable fabric facilitates the evaporation of moisture from the skin into the outside air. Characteristics such as moisture-wicking ability or a loose weave to promote airflow often make the cloth more breathable. Some popular types of breathable fabric include cotton, polyester, linen, and bamboo.
In this article, you will discover what makes the fabric breathable. You will also learn about the top twelve breathable kinds of fabric. Finally, you will find tips for choosing the most breathable bed sheets and face masks!
What is Breathable Fabric?
Breathable fabric has an excellent ability to transfer moisture through the material into the outside air. You will also see this characteristic called a moisture-wicking ability. The technical term used to measure how well a fabric transfers moisture is called the Moisture Vapor Transmission Rate.
Manufacturers can measure exactly how well a particular fabric transmits moisture from one side of the material to the other. For example, special sweat-wicking performance materials like some types of nylon and polyester work well for athletes because they have a unique weave intended to move your sweat away from your skin.
That said, when you see the word “breathable,” it doesn’t necessarily have a super-technical meaning. It can also describe any light, airy, floaty kind of garment. The cut and style of a piece of clothing make a big difference in how cool or hot it feels, too.
Any garment that hugs your skin will trap your body heat and sweat more easily than a loose-fitting garment.
The kind of fibers used in any type of material also plays a role. Some fabric fibers, like cotton, have a natural ability to permit airflow. Most synthetic fibers, such as polyester and rayon, do not. Synthetic fabric depends on the structure of the weave to create moisture-wicking abilities and allow airflow.
For this reason, natural fibers such as cotton, linen, and silk will usually feel lighter and less sticky in hot weather. That said, natural fibers typically absorb the moisture instead of transferring it away into the outside air, so they don’t offer the best solution for athletic wear!
Best Breathable Fabrics Comparison Table
|1||Cotton||Highly breathable and airy.||Absorbs moisture well but does not disseminate it as easily.||Everyday clothing, bedding, household products.|
|2||Polyester||Depends on the structure of the weave.||Performance-level polyester uses advanced weaving techniques that provide high moisture-wicking ability.||Athletic wear, everyday clothing.|
|3||Nylon||Depends on the structure of the weave.||Performance-level nylon uses advanced weaving techniques that provide high moisture-wicking ability.||Athletic wear and winter athletic wear.|
|4||Rayon||Light, breathable, and airy.||Highly absorbent but not as wicking as polyester.||Everyday or formal clothes.|
|5||Linen||Highly breathable, with hollow fibers that allow air circulation.||Absorbent but not as good at wicking as synthetic fabrics.||Great for casual clothing and household items, but does wrinkle easily.|
|6||Silk||Very fine, delicate, and breathable.||Does not handle moisture well and shows sweat stains.||Best saved for indoors, or times when you need to look nice!|
|7||Micromodal||Fine threads provide great breathability.||Semi-synthetic fibers provide good moisture wicking.||Popular for underwear or soft t-shirts.|
|8||Merino Wool||Very breathable and lightweight.||Wool fibers provide excellent absorbency and moisture wicking.||Great for outdoor running in winter and summer.|
|9||Chambray||Cotton threads provide airy breathability.||Absorbs moisture well, but does not wick it as easily as synthetics.||Good for dress shirts and dresses.|
|10||Viscose||Somewhat breathable.||Highly absorbent but not as good at wicking as polyester.||Great for silky, drapey garments such as dresses and skirts.|
|11||Bamboo||Highly breathable.||Excellent at moisture-wicking.||Popular for athletic wear and bedding.|
|12||Gauze||Large air gaps between threads make it highly breathable.||Good at absorption but not wicking.||Popular for some types of clothing such as sundresses and baby clothes.|
12 Most Breathable Fabric Types
The most breathable kinds of material can serve many different purposes, from providing a cool night’s sleep to keeping you sweat-free on your morning run! Each of the materials listed here has some pros and cons, but all of them provide excellent breathability.
1. CottonCotton pretty much always wins the contest as the most breathable fabric of all time. This stems from the shape of the tiny, all-natural fibers that make up every cotton thread.
Each fiber has a curlicue shape like a twisted ribbon on a birthday present. This twisted shape prevents the fibers from clumping close together and allows air and moisture to flow through the fabric!
Cotton also has a natural ability to absorb moisture quite easily. On the downside, it doesn’t dry quickly because the cotton fibers cling to the moisture.
Because of this, you will often find cotton blended with a synthetic material like polyester to create a more moisture-wicking material. The synthetic fibers do not easily absorb moisture, which encourages the sweat or water to quickly evaporate into the outside air.
Many popular types of fabric contain cotton. These include denim, jersey knit, and poplin. Cotton fabric remains one of the most popular materials for many types of clothing and serves as a staple in household items such as bedding and towels.
2. PolyesterOn the other end of the fabric spectrum, polyester contains 100% synthetic fibers. Polyester is made out of petroleum by-products, and every tiny fiber is essentially solid plastic. This does not facilitate easy airflow, as you can imagine.
That said, polyester also wins a lot of contests for breathability because of its incredible moisture-wicking capabilities. This is where synthetic fabrics shine.
First, most synthetic materials are naturally hydrophobic, meaning that they resist absorbing water or sweat. This facilitates the quick movement of moisture through the material–the moisture doesn’t get sucked in and linger, as it does in cotton!
Second, fabric manufacturers create advanced thread structures within the material that funnel the moisture quickly to the outer surface of the fabric. This gets rid of the moisture, and also allows the material to dry super-fast!
Now, not all polyester is created equal. High-tech or performance materials typically contain this special thread structure, but your flowery summer blouse probably does not. It’s all about the weave if you want breathable polyester.
3. NylonNylon also provides an outstanding moisture-wicking ability. You see nylon most often in athletic wear such as uniforms, running shirts, track jackets, and even sports bras!
Like polyester, this 100% synthetic material does not allow much airflow through its plasticky fibers, but it does excel at moving moisture away from your skin.
Nylon and polyester both catch a lot of flack in the breathability department. You may hear your friends or people online complaining that synthetic fabrics are never as breathable as natural fabrics.
This is kind of true. Sometimes synthetic materials do cling to your skin in a hot way! The thing to remember with any synthetic material is that special moisture-wicking weaves will keep you cool, but many other weaves will not.
If you’re standing in the sun wearing a nylon dress, you probably will get sweaty and hot quite quickly! If you’re jogging outside on a hot day wearing a performance fabric nylon t-shirt, though, the special nylon structure will wick your sweat away, constantly keeping you cool.
4. RayonRayon is a semi-synthetic fabric that is made from chemically processed wood pulp. It has super-thin fibers and is often termed lightweight and airy. Plus, it absorbs water just as well as cotton!
Rayon looks and feels a lot like silk but costs far less because of its chemically processed fibers. Its incredibly fine threads leave room for air to pass through the material.
That said, you may want to consider what kind of rayon clothing you purchase. Anything with a close cut that clings to your skin will feel hotter and more stuffy than a loosely flowing rayon garment.
5. LinenLike cotton, linen comes from an all-natural source: flax plants! This fabric has a loose weave and a textured surface that wrinkles easily. Its cooling ability comes primarily from its porous weave and the air that can flow easily through the threads.
Flax fibers have hollow cores, which makes them super airy and cooling.
Unlike cotton, linen resists moisture absorption, though not to the extent of synthetic fabric. This means that linen also does pretty well at moisture wicking!
Unfortunately, linen costs a lot and does not have easy care requirements, which makes it less popular for clothing than cotton. Despite that, it remains in high demand for bedding because it has a truly unparalleled ability to keep you cool as you sleep in a hot climate.
6. SilkSilk contains almost microscopic threads, and these fine yarns allow a comfortable amount of air to pass through the fabric’s weave. These thousands of invisible air pockets provide cooling relief in the heat and insulate you in cold weather, keeping you warm!
That said, silk does not absorb moisture well and does not provide great moisture-wicking abilities. It can also show sweat stains badly and retain body odor even after washing.
All of that aside, silk makes excellent bedding if you can afford it. These sheets allowing cooling air to circulate over you as you sleep. They also feel whisper-thin and airy on your skin!
7. MicromodalMicromodal is a type of rayon that uses even finer threads. Often combined with spandex to make incredibly soft and silky garments like underwear and socks, this material also does a good job of allowing both moisture and air to pass through it.
Plus, micro modal often features a knit structure instead of a classic weave. You can think of this as basically a really fine, really silky version of t-shirt material! This light, stretchy material also feels comfy against your skin.
Micro modal typically feels softer than cotton, and it also provides better moisture-wicking.
8. Merino WoolYou might find it hard to believe, but merino wool also has great breathability! Most wool fibers have a natural crimp that allows them to hold in pockets of insulating air. For this reason (and the plush thickness of wool!), you probably think of wool as a cold-weather fabric.
However, the very fine, very light strands of merino wool make a material that feels comfortable year-round!
Wool has a rare ability to wick moisture and vapor, which even synthetic material can’t manage. It provides excellent body temperature regulation because of that.
Now, even merino wool will feel heavier on your skin than silk or rayon. You may feel more comfortable wearing a lighter fabric on your summertime jog. But don’t discount a merino top for a summer evening, either!
9. ChambrayChambray is made out of superfine cotton threads and looks like a lighter version of denim. It has growing popularity in areas like shirts and summer dresses. Because it contains cotton, its threads have a naturally porous quality that allows air to flow through easily.
The high thread count of this material also enables airflow. Chambray absorbs moisture much like cotton, too.
All that said, wearing chambray or denim close to your skin will trap heat and feel much less breathable than wearing a more loose-fitting garment.
10. ViscoseViscose is yet another type of rayon, this one known for its delicacy and lustrous appearance. It has airy breathability based on its high thread count and fine threads, providing many air gaps within the weave.
Lots of popular summer sundresses, skirts, and blouses feature viscose. It feels cool because you get a nice cooling flow of air through its weave.
That said, viscose tends to absorb moisture rapidly and does not wick it away nearly as well as polyester. It also weakens and easily gets damaged when wet. You may want to consider wearing elegant, silky viscose garments in dry heat, not when you plan to sweat a lot!
11. BambooBamboo fabric goes through a process similar to rayon manufacturing, but it often uses less dangerous chemicals. This makes it more sustainable than the manufacturing process used to make most synthetic fabrics. On top of this, bamboo fabric can absorb moisture even better than cotton!
This material only recently became popular for clothing and household products but has already made a name for itself for its temperature regulation and moisture-wicking abilities. It also resists bad odors and is hypoallergenic.
You may have noticed a growing trend for bamboo fabric bed sheets. These pricey items have a silky texture, an airy weave, and excellent breathability.
12. GauzeGauze fabric features a special weave pattern that uses a twist before and after the threads cross each other to hold its loose, airy structure in place. Obviously, with visible air gaps between threads, this material allows a lot of airflow!
Because gauze is often made of cotton thread, it also absorbs moisture well.
While you might not typically wear gauze clothing, you may have worn a garment made of double cotton gauze without even knowing it! This material layers gauze to create a super-breathable, light fabric.
You can also find loose sundresses, baby clothes, and swim coverups made from gauze or double gauze material.
Most Breathable Fabrics For:
To find the best, most breathable material, you should consider when you plan to wear it. Do you need athletic wear for a workout or a face mask for the office? Check out this quick comparison to find the most breathable fabric for every situation!
Cotton appears in pretty much every category. Despite the emergence of cheaper, more moisture-wicking synthetic materials in recent years, cotton remains one of the most popular choices for breathable fabric in almost every kind of product imaginable!
PantsDenim, linen, or bamboo fabric all make excellent hot-weather pants. Linen and bamboo cost a lot, though, so you may also see several blended fabrics on the market. These combine the breathability of the expensive fabric with durability and the low cost of a cheaper fiber.
Of course, denim contains cotton, which you already know has great breathability!
Another thing you need to consider if you plan to wear pants in hot weather is the style of pants. You don’t want super heavy material or a lining for your summer pants! You will also feel much cooler if you choose a cut that offers a little room around your legs instead of clinging tightly to your skin.
ShirtsCotton makes excellent, breathable button-up shirts. Synthetic and semi-synthetic fabrics also star in this category, though! Rayon and viscose make lovely, silky women’s blouses that also have an airy quality to them. For a more natural look, you could go with linen, which has incredible cooling and moisture-absorbing properties.
Of course, if you need a shirt for a more intense activity like running or playing basketball, you’re going to want to look at the performance fabrics widely available on the market today. These will typically feature 100% synthetic material like polyester or a synthetic and cotton blend for extra softness. Make sure the shirt uses advanced moisture-wicking thread structures to keep you cool as you work out!
T-ShirtsCotton remains the most popular material for T-shirts, hands down! As you know, cotton knit allows a lot of air to flow through its all-natural, porous fibers quite easily. It also absorbs moisture well but doesn’t allow it to evaporate as quickly as a synthetic material.
That said, cheaper synthetic fabrics have eaten away at the t-shirt market considerably in the past decades. You will find quite a bit of disagreement over whether or not polyester t-shirts are breathable or not. The fact of the matter is that some are, and some aren’t! It all depends on the structure of the weave.
The CDC recommends wearing a face mask that contains at least two layers of breathable fabric. The organization does note that even adding a nose wire to keep the mask firmly in place does not provide comprehensive protection but that wearing a mask that fits as closely to your face as possible is ideal.
So, what fabric can you easily breathe through? Cotton or double-knit cotton remains the top choice for a breathable, comfortable mask. Silk makes a great inner lining against your face and also allows easy breathing. Some DIY mask-makers also suggest using chiffon or a loosely woven fabric as an inner layer of the mask.
SheetsSilk, high-quality cotton such as Egyptian cotton, and bamboo all compete as the most breathable type of sheets! You will find a lot of controversy over this issue. On the other hand, you really can’t go wrong by choosing any of these three luxurious types of bedding!
If you need a more economical option, “normal” cotton sheet sets typically sell for a mere $40-$50 and provide a nice cooling sleep. You may also want to consider synthetic bedding because polyester and rayon provide that incredible moisture-wicking ability for anyone who gets sweaty at night.
In general, you will see cotton recommended most often as the coolest fabric to wear in hot weather. Linen probably comes in a close second, and moisture-wicking synthetics come in third for any athletic clothing.
The most breathable fabric for hot weather depends on what kind of clothing you need on any given day. If you’re going to a cookout, you probably want a cool denim button-down shirt or a floaty rayon sundress. If you’re moving around a lot in the heat, you’re going to want to look for a performance-level moisture-wicking material like a good-quality polyester or nylon.
UnderwearMicromodal and cotton both make comfortable, breathable underwear in many different types and styles. Synthetic fabrics like polyester, or a poly-cotton blend, also make up a huge percentage of the underwear market.
Cotton offers the airiest, lightest feeling underwear. On the other hand, polyester or polycotton will keep you less sweaty in sensitive areas!
You want a breathable material for this type of garment because many kinds of underwear blend in spandex to make the underwear form-fitting. Spandex does not breathe well, as you would expect, so the other type of fabric needs to balance that out!
Best Fabrics That Don’t Show Sweat When Running
Your best option for choosing a fabric that doesn’t show sweat while you run is to go with a synthetic, moisture-wicking material such as polyester or nylon. Two surprising runners-up for this award go to merino wool and bamboo.
Performance-grade polyester and nylon use special thread structures that rapidly transfer moisture from the inside of the material to the outside. They essentially always move moisture from the wetter side of the fabric to the dryer side, balancing out the humidity on either side!
Merino wool might sound like a terrible idea–who wants to go running while wearing a sweater? But actually, this lightweight material provides amazing temperature regulation and sweat-wicking as you move!
Finally, semi-synthetic bamboo fabric costs more than some other options, but this material does provide great moisture-wicking and antibacterial qualities.
What Fabric is Soft and Breathable?
Cotton typically wins as the softest, most breathable fabric available, though bamboo fabric could have the edge on breathability and micro modal may feel softer to the touch.
Here’s the inside scoop on cotton: you can buy several different kinds of cotton, and each type has longer or shorter staples. Long-staple, or luxury, types of cotton cost a lot of money but provide a decadent softness. On top of that, material that uses more cotton threads per square inch will also feel softer.
So, cotton can provide the highest breathability and softness of any material, but it doesn’t always deliver on this front! It all depends on the quality of the cotton staples and the thread count used in the material.
Bamboo fabric also costs a pretty penny but offers a more sustainable production process than cotton because it uses less water. Its unique fibers absorb huge amounts of moisture easily, meaning that it may outdo cotton in terms of moisture-wicking and breathability. That said, bamboo fabric typically doesn’t feel as soft to the touch as really high-quality cotton.
Finally, micro modal, the softest, most delicate form of rayon, also has a horse in this race. Micro modal often feels softer than cotton. It uses incredibly fine threads and has a high thread count because of this.
Then again, micro modal fabric also has a semi-synthetic chemical structure, meaning that it lacks the porous fibers of cotton and does not promote airflow quite as easily.
In all honesty, each of the twelve types of fabrics described in this article will provide excellent breathability. Most of them have a nice softness, as well! But for the top three soft and breathable fabrics, you probably want to select from cotton, bamboo, or micro modal.
Natural materials like cotton, linen, and silk provide excellent breathability. Synthetic fabrics do better with moisture-wicking, keeping you cool in the heat. For this reason, polyester and nylon always work well in athletic wear.
The quality of the material may impact its level of breathability. Cheap polyester may not use the advanced weaving techniques that provide moisture-wicking. Likewise, high-quality cotton provides more softness and breathability than low-quality cotton.
What kind of fabric do you like to wear outside in the summer? Leave a comment below to let us know!