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How to Choose the Best Moisture Wicking Garment

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There has been an explosion in the last two years in the number of brands and styles that produce what is commonly called “moisture wicking” apparel. But the quality of performance from one item to another varies greatly. Here at Embroidery Solutions, we are well versed in the mechanics of moisture wicking and therefore can greatly help clients make the right choice. Call us today at 407-438-8188 (or contact us online) to get our expert recommendation on the right products based on your budget and needs.

In a nut shell, the best moisture wicking garments are those whose fabric are typically synthetic, lightweight, thin, and tightly weaved. This should offer the best result in keeping one comfortable in the heat. To understand why this is so, one must determine the science behind the moisture wicking process.

First of all, sweating is the body’s mechanism of cooling itself. The extra heat that is generated from hardworking muscles, or when the body is subjected to heat, is transported to the skin’s surface via sweat. The fabric that is layered over the body must wick the sweat away from the skin and transport it to the outer layer where it can evaporate, hence keeping the skin dry and the body comfortable.

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.


fabric’s ability to transport moisture through itself, and is determined by a combination of sizes of spaces within it and the connections between the spaces.

Other properties that certainly do effect the wicking properties of a fabric include yarn twist (how threads in the fabric turn around each other), contact angle (between the fiber and the liquid), knit or weave (the larger scale construction of the fabric), yarn roughness and a whole lot more.

Yarns that repel moisture, hydrophobic, that are weaved in such a manner that form a multitude of small ducts, will force the sweat into these ducts and due to the repelling quality of the fabric and surface tension forces as described earlier, will then push the moisture up these ducts to the surface. The smaller the radius of these ducts, the greater the distance the moisture will travel, as shown in the diagram below. Hence thinner, tighter, weaved fabrics will perform the best.

Duct Radius

Aside from the duct radius, fibers of fabrics that retain moisture through swelling, can cause the squeezing of the capillaries (ducts), causing them to bottleneck or completely close of those capillaries. This behavior (swelling through absorption) is common in cellulosic fibers such a rayon. Hence choose polyester fabrics.

In addition to that, natural fibers such as cotton have very irregular capillaries due to the cross-sectional shape and length of the fibers, as shown in the graphical representation below,

Cotton Fiber Cross-section

Microscopic photo of the surface and cross-section of Dacron polyester fibers. Microscopic photo of the surface and cross-section of Dacron polyester fibers.


This is an important element in the science of moisture wicking technology. There are some garments labeled moisture wicking that are made of a polyester/cotton blend, which are typically lower in cost. These have been chemically treated, typically, by dipping or spraying the garment. This chemical pulls moisture from the body and forces it out to the garment’s surface. But this chemical treatment will eventually dissipate over time through washing rendering the garment weak in its moisture wicking performance.

TBe sure to choose apparel that is 100% polyester and is lightweight (i.e. thin fabric). Below are two great choices for moisture wicking polos.

Sportek Dry Zone Raglan Sport Shirt – T475
3.8oz, 100% polyester fabric, with anti microbial properties.

Ultra Club Cool n Dry, Performance Polo, 8445
4.8oz, 100% polyester fabric, with anti microbial properties.

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.

Note: 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.