What Is Moisture Wicking?

What Is Moisture Wicking?

If you work out, you sweat. If you sweat a lot when running or during any other workout, you understand how uncomfortable it can be to have wet fabric sticking to your skin. Moisture-wicking fabric will pull the sweat away from your body to the top of the fabric where it can evaporate.

This process will keep you more comfortable while you run, walk, hike, weight lift or engage in any type of activity where you are likely to sweat.

What Fabric Will NOT Wick Moisture

The most common culprit that defies any type of moisture-wicking qualities is cotton. Those cotton tees will hold in the moisture from your sweat with no chance of escape.

Although this all-natural fabric has many wonderful qualities and uses, wearing cotton for workout gear is sure to leave you uncomfortable. Also, this fabric has the potential to chafe as it rubs against your body during your workout.

All that means is that while your favorite t-shirt is perfect to put on post-workout, don’t even think of wearing it while you are working out.

Moisture Wicking Fabrics Explained


Polyester is the workhorse of workout gear. Strong and durable, your polyester fitness attire will withstand miles of wear and workout clothes wash, so you can wear and wash again and again.

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Polyester clothing tends to be slippery to the touch, which is why so much workout gear has that shiny look to it. In addition, it is an inexpensive fabric.

Some people remember polyester as lacking breathability and while that was once true, this is not your Gramma’s polyester. Grab yourself some polyester workout gear. You won’t regret it.


A sister to polyester, polypropylene is also made of plastic. Polypropylene is water-resistant and makes an excellent outer layer on wet and rainy days.


When looking for a stretchy material that will conform to your body, spandex is the ticket. Spandex is also moisture-wicking and the fabric recovers back to shape easily.

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People who do not prefer anything form-fitting would be unlikely to want to choose spandex. Certain pieces of apparel are conducive to spandex such as leggings, base layers, and other items.


Nylon does not absorb moisture naturally. If it is treated correctly, it can also have moisture-wicking qualities. You will often find some nylon added to certain pieces of workout apparel.

Nylon also has a reputation for being extremely durable in the long haul, helping to stretch our fitness apparel dollars a little further as these pieces should last longer.


Although all-natural in a world full of synthetics, wool is naturally moisture-wicking. Fantastic for layering on cold days, it traps air between layers keeping you warmer.


Another natural fiber, bamboo is a sustainable option for those who want to wear natural fabric. Bamboo makes a resistant fabric proven to be durable, with natural moisture wicking tendencies. It is a bit more expensive of an option, however.

Blended Fabrics

The most common blend of natural and synthetic fibers is a polyester-cotton blend, often referred to as poly-cotton.

While a blend is going to have the soft, comfortable feel of cotton with some of the qualities of polyester, it is likely not going to have enough moisture wicking qualities for a hard workout.

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A good rule of thumb is to save the cotton and poly-cotton blends for things like yoga or bend and stretch classes, or for lounging around the house. Most hard, “gonna make you sweat” workouts need a fabric that will keep the sweat away from your skin.

Merino wool is often blended with other fabrics to make a warm, moisture-wicking fabric using both natural and synthetic fibers. Wool is often blended with polyester to make the expensive, coveted wool less expensive.

Odor Retention in Synthetic Fabrics

One serious problem with moisture-wicking fabrics is they can be prone to retaining odors. That is a very polite way of stating that if you wear some of these fabrics, you can find yourself being very stinky.

People are often tempted to add extra laundry detergent to the wash when the clothes fail to come out smelling fresh, which is the biggest mistake you could make.

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Although there are special soaps made for workout apparel, you don’t necessarily need them. Your moisture-wicking workout clothes can be kept smelling fresh with proper treatment and laundering. Don’t ever throw your smelly clothes in a gym bag and let them stay there. Air dry them immediately or as soon as possible.

Moisture-wicking clothes can be soaked in vinegar water and washed inside out to help remove those odors. They should be washed using less soap than recommended on the detergent bottle. Workout gear should always be either laid flat or hung to dry.

Anything That Touches The Skin…

It stands to reason that unless you want your sweat hanging around on your body, anything that touches your skin when you intend to sweat should wick moisture. This means all of your base layers should certainly wick moisture and will likely be made primarily from synthetic fabrics.

Yes, this means right down to your moisture-wicking running socks. Most athletes would argue especially your socks. Your feet are what literally carries you through the miles of workouts, so you should never skimp on them.

If this leaves you thinking you can consider cotton for your outermost layers, think again. Cotton loses its shape and begins to just hang from your body.

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There’s no place in a workout for hanging clothes. For outdoor activities such as running, biking and hiking, wearing synthetic fabric on your outermost layer will help you brave the elements.

You just never know when you might encounter snow or rain while running and water-resistant fabric will keep you warm and dry. Moisture-wicking fabrics tend to work in the other direction, as explained.

Protect Your Skin

The long and short of it is that moisture-wicking fabrics will keep sweat and the elements off of your body better than fabrics that do not wick moisture.

Whether you’re a runner, cyclist, hiker or weight lifter, your body is your temple and it deserves the best possible treatment you can provide for it. Moisture-wicking apparel is a simple way to say, “I love you” to your skin.


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