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Moisture-Wicking vs. Cotton: Which One Is Better for You and the Environment?

Moisture-Wicking vs. Cotton: Which One Is Better for You and the Environment?

In our bustling lives, filled with workouts, workdays, social gatherings, and relaxation, the demand for versatile clothing is higher than ever. The rise of active lifestyles has led to a need for apparel that can seamlessly transition through various activities.

Athleisure, a popular fashion trend, perfectly embodies this need by blending athletic performance and luxurious comfort. This fusion allows individuals to effortlessly transition throughout the day, adapting to different situations with ease. One crucial attribute enabling this adaptability is moisture-wicking, also known as sweat-wicking. In this guide, we delve into the mechanics of sweat-wicking, and its significance, and highlight specific fabrics that showcase this feature effectively. Specifically, let's get to know moisture-wicking vs. cotton and which one is better for you and the environment.

Quick-Dry Moisture-Wicking Fabric

Moisture-Wicking Fabric

When discussing clothing items like hoodies, sweaters, long-sleeve tees, leggings, and short-sleeve t-shirts, the focus often centers on their moisture-wicking capabilities, breathability, and resistance to cold weather. So what does moisture-wicking fabric mean?

It's essential to distinguish between moisture-wicking and moisture-absorbing fabrics. While materials, such as microfiber are known for absorbing moisture, the best moisture-wicking fabrics excel in rapidly releasing any absorbed moisture, thanks to capillary action.

What does moisture-wicking fabric do? Moisture-wicking fabrics feature tiny tubes that draw sweat or water away from your skin, expelling it into the air as vapor. Fabrics that only absorb moisture without drying quickly aren't genuinely moisture-wicking. This ability to absorb and promptly release moisture is especially crucial in exercise performance clothing. Studies have shown their effectiveness in preventing overheating during physical activities. Both natural and synthetic materials exhibit these moisture-wicking properties. Additionally, the weight of your clothing significantly impacts your workout, particularly for high-performance athletes because water and sweat-logged garments naturally weigh you down more than dry, lightweight ones.

RELATED: What is moisture wicking and why is it important?

Moisture-Wicking vs. Cotton

There's often confusion surrounding the fabrics that genuinely possess moisture-wicking properties. Take cotton, for instance, known for efficiently absorbing sweat and water but notorious for its slow drying time. Consequently, cotton is not typically regarded as suitable for activewear. Nevertheless, it's a common misconception to hear people refer to cotton as moisture-wicking when, in reality, it's moisture-absorbing.

Cotton may absorb sweat, but it tends to retain moisture, leaving the fabric drenched without drawing it away from your skin. Synthetic materials, on the other hand, prove invaluable in this regard. They are moisture-wicking, swiftly pulling sweat away from the skin, expelling it from the clothing and into the surroundings. Unlike cotton, synthetic fabrics release sweat, enabling the crucial cooling process of evaporation.

A moisture-wicking fabric serves a dual purpose: it swiftly transfers sweat to the fabric's outer surface and dries rapidly to prevent saturation. This functionality ensures enhanced comfort as your body effectively regulates its temperature, and the fabric in contact with your skin remains dry and non-sticky.

Cotton Fabric

The Best Moisture-Wicking Fabrics

Sweat-wicking fabric keeps you dry and cool by pulling moisture away for evaporation. Breathable fabrics allow air to pass through, aiding in faster moisture evaporation, with some being more effective than others. The ideal moisture-wicking fabric is both sweat-wicking and breathable.

When moisture is absorbed into a fabric's yarns and remains trapped rather than passing through, it leads to ineffective moisture-wicking. Synthetic fabrics, being "hydrophobic" and resistant to water penetration, such as polyester or nylon, are excellent at moisture-wicking as a result.


Polyester, a synthetic fabric, is a dependable choice for moisture-wicking. It's often used in active wear due to its breathability, lightweight nature, and quick-drying properties. Nevertheless, it has a drawback as it tends to hold onto odors and may contribute to bacteria growth. So it's best to wash well any clothing made of polyester.


Polypropylene, a thermoplastic polymer similar to polyester, not only wicks moisture but also dries rapidly. Its excellent thermal properties make it perfect for cold-weather gear and clothing. However, similar to polyester, it has tendency to retain odors and is not as soft as some other fabrics on the list. This is why some manufacturers blend this fabric with other fabrics to achieve a more comfortable texture.

Merino Wool

Merino wool stands out as a top-notch moisture-wicking fabric in today's market. This natural fiber is both breathable and lightweight, making it perfect for warmer climates. Unlike polyester, it doesn't hold onto odors. Merino wool, once reserved for sweaters, is now crafted into lightweight fabrics, ideal for undershirts and activewear.

The drawback to merino wool, despite its excellent moisture-wicking properties, is its lower durability compared to cotton and other synthetic fabrics.


Wool, a natural fiber, excels as a remarkable moisture-wicking material. It boasts heat-regulating qualities and offers softness and warmth, making it an ideal choice for winter apparel. Nevertheless, it's important to note that compared to merino wool, standard wool can be less soft and may potentially irritate sensitive skin. Additionally, it tends to be less durable than synthetic fabrics.


Nylon boasts moisture-wicking capabilities, mildew resistance, and rapid drying, making it a comfortable choice for workout wear due to its stretchiness and lightness. You'll frequently encounter fitness apparel constructed from nylon or featuring a high nylon content.


Micromodal stands out as one of the most breathable moisture-wicking fabrics available today. Its remarkable temperature-regulating properties ensure comfort in various weather conditions. With its luxuriously soft and silk-like texture, it's a perfect choice for undergarments, loungewear, and garments worn close to the skin.

However, micromodal may occasionally experience pilling, requiring more specific care compared to other moisture-wicking materials. It's worth noting that while micromodal regulates body temperature effectively, it doesn't trap heat and won't provide warmth in colder conditions.

Cotton vs. Moisture-Wicking

Although cotton is a natural fiber that can biodegrade, it poses significant environmental challenges. Cultivating and processing cotton are highly water-intensive processes, requiring thousands of gallons of water to produce just one pair of jeans and shirts.

Cotton farming also involves the use of substantial amounts of pesticides and toxic chemicals, which contaminate the soil and water sources. Even before it is transformed into clothing, cotton as a crop has detrimental effects on both people and the planet. Conventional cotton production contributes to one-sixth of global pesticide usage, harming farmers and local communities with exposure to harmful chemicals.

Some individuals prefer cotton. While some use cotton shirts for weight lifting, synthetic clothing is generally a better option for working out. Wearing cotton can lead to discomfort and reduced performance due to excessive sweating and heat.

Sweat All the Way With Moisture-Wicking Fabrics

Sweating cools your body, and effective moisture-wicking fabric complements this process. Moisture-wicking base layers and clothes worn during activities like hiking or running let you stay comfortable and dry.

Check out our All Women's and All Men's collections and experience freedom from sweat with our moisture-wicking activewear you can wear at different transitions throughout your day.

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