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Wicking 101

The essential things you need to know about wicking

I have often noticed when I mention that a fabric has wicking properties, people look at me as though I have just lapsed into a foreign language. So, what does wicking mean?

WICKING
The spontaneous transport of a liquid driven into a porous system by a capillary force.
close up of fabric weave

 

Moisture-wicking fabrics are fabrics with the ability to pull moisture away from the skin using tiny, built-in capillaries. Moisture is drawn to the exterior of the fabric, which makes it easier to evaporate. The transport of moisture in textiles is a critical factor in a garments comfort.

But how do moisture wicking fabrics actually work? The answer is a matter of chemistry, and starts with the molecular properties of liquids. Moisture wicking is actually a product of capillary action - a natural property of fluids that allows a liquid to flow through tight spaces, even against gravity. Tightly woven fibres create the type of narrow pathways that allow for some degree of capillary action to take place. Fabrics with an exceptional ability to transport water from one side of a barrier (near your skin) to the other are said to be moisture wicking.

In my research I came across diagrams like this……

diagram about wicking fabric

So there is some sort of chemistry thing going on with the clothes you are wearing.
OMG - Who knew?
graph about wicking in fabrics

Let’s have a look at how this capillary action works in some popular fabrics:

Silk — Silk is a great material for a base layer because it is natural and wicks moisture. Silk fibres also have a hollow center which helps in the regulation of body temperature during both cool and warm conditions.  So whilst it is more costly than many other fabrics, it wicks well and can give a simple piece of clothing a luxury look.

Cotton — Clothing made of cotton is not good for cold weather. It absorbs moisture and traps it next to your skin. Save the cotton for summer, when you might want a little extra moisture to help you cool. The body cools when air hits moist skin, so cotton is a good if you need to get your body temperature down in a hurry. But where cotton can fall short is that it retains the excessive moisture that doesn't evaporate from the skin. In other words, if you're sweating, everyone can tell.

Linen - Because of its porous nature, linen has natural heat and moisture-wicking properties that make it a good conductor and a popular fabric to use for clothing or bedding in the summer.  However it has little elasticity so it can wrinkle quite a bit. It is also more expensive than cotton.

Merino Wool — Is an essential cold weather material especially when paired with some polyester layers. Merino wool is one of the best moisture wicking fabrics on the market today. It is a natural fibre that is breathable and lightweight, suitable for warmer weather and doesn’t retain odours. No longer just for sweaters, merino wool is now available in lightweight fabrics.

Polyester — Basically fine, woven strands of plastic, which sounds horrible to wear, but actually gives clothing a softness. For example, fleece tends to be made out of polyester. It is a moisture wicking fabric which draws perspiration away from the skin. It makes a great cold weather layer.

Nylon — Good for outer layers, as it doesn’t absorb much water. It makes a great poncho or rain jacket. Gore-Tex, Sympatex or similar are engineered, patented materials that claim to be waterproof, windproof and breathable. Most of these live up to the claim and make great outer layer jackets for cold weather.

I hope this new found knowledge helps you with your clothing shopping

and choosing what to wear each day.

various fabrics have different wave & wicking properties

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