How does wicking occur with protective clothing? What makes a product wick?

Responding is Carolyn Kidd, marketing manager of DRIFIRE, Chicago.

Consumers can now choose from a range of high-tech products that claim to “wick” moisture away from the body for increased comfort.

Old-fashioned cotton clothing absorbs liquid. This means cotton clothing can become wet and heavy, making you feel uncomfortable, especially if you live in hot climates or are wearing cotton clothing during exercise.

But clothes designed to move moisture away from the body and onto the surface of the fabric, where it can evaporate, are made of a more contemporary fabric – wicking material. Wicking materials are designed to draw moisture away from your skin. Manufacturers have developed a variety of wicking materials:

  • Wicking fibers usually are coated with a water-resisting compound or have water-resistant fibers interwoven with non-wicking fibers.
  • Polyester, a man-made fabric that is tough and dries quickly, is a popular wicking fiber.
  • Microfiber, made from waste generated by the petroleum industry, is an extremely thin thread that has become popular due to its soft, comfortable feel against skin; resistance to wrinkling; and ability to draw moisture away from the skin through tiny portals and hold it on the surface of the fabric.
  • Recently, bamboo fabric has been found to be a natural wicking material. Its soft, light texture is making it an increasingly popular choice for clothing.

How does wicking occur?

Wicking is the process whereby liquid is moved through an object by capillary action. Capillary action refers to liquid being drawn up or rising through small openings. Wicking fabrics are designed to create an environment that draws liquid up, away from the skin, to the surface of the fabric. For example, dirt spots on clothing frequently reappear either after drying or over time. These reappearing spots or even rapid re-soiling of clothes can be the result of wicking.

How wicking fabrics keep wearers comfortable

The wicking capability of certain fabrics increases your comfort level by preventing your clothes from feeling wet and clammy against your skin. In addition, today’s sophisticated wicking fabrics also increase your overall safety. Benefits of wicking fabrics include:

  • They are resistant to health-threatening bacteria that may grow on more absorbent fabrics, such as cotton.
  • They are odor-resistant
  • Many incorporate ultraviolet protection from the sun.
  • Wicking fabrics help regulate your body temperature without feeling heavy against your skin or prohibiting movement.

Specific types of wicking fabrics work well in different environmental temperatures:

  • Thermal fabrics are a popular choice for cold-weather activities because they are lightweight yet help your body hold in heat while wicking moisture away from your skin.
  • Some wicking fabrics are specifically designed to wick moisture away in hot environments to keep you cool and prevent overheating.

Post a comment to this article

Safety+Health welcomes comments that promote respectful dialogue. Please stay on topic. Comments that contain personal attacks, profanity or abusive language – or those aggressively promoting products or services – will be removed. We reserve the right to determine which comments violate our comment policy. (Anonymous comments are welcome; merely skip the “name” field in the comment box. An email address is required but will not be included with your comment.)