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How to Select the Right Moisture Wicking Fabric for Your Job

By Michael Schoonover
Published: October 9, 2017 | Last updated: February 12, 2022
Key Takeaways

Comfortable work clothing is more than just a preference - it can also keep you focused, alert, and safe.

Source: lanolan / iStock

Industrial workers perform some of the most difficult and tiring jobs in the country. Many of those jobs are carried out in hot and humid conditions, in remote locations, or at great heights. This makes it easy for workers to sweat excessively and difficult for them to get adequate hydration, putting them at risk of dehydration and hypernatremia.

The clothing worn on the job should provide adequate protection along with comfort and dexterity. Safety comes first, however, which means that comfort is often sacrificed. High-performance, flame-resistant (FR) apparel with moisture-wicking technology is now available. In the right applications, this clothing can increase comfort, improve productivity, and protect workers from heat stress.

What Is Moisture-Wicking Fabric?

Moisture-wicking clothing is made with fibers that are designed to pull moisture from the skin and transport it through the fabric. This helps the body stay cool, comfortable, and insulated.

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The best moisture-wicking fabrics will combine two types of fibers:

  • Hydrophobic (water repelling) fibers
  • Hydrophilic (water absorbing) fibers

Without enough hydrophilic fibers, the fabric won't be able to absorb sufficient moisture. Insufficient hydrophobic fibers and the fabric can't push the sweat to the surface. With enough of both fibers, the moisture is transported to the exterior of the fabric where it can spread out and dry more quickly.

A good moisture-wicking fabric will also have both synthetic and natural fibers, with a 55% synthetic and 45% natural blend providing optimal performance.

Fabrics with good water-wicking properties include:

Why Moisture-Wicking Fabrics Are Important

Combating Heat Stress

In hot and humid conditions, a well-designed moisture-wicking garment will pull moisture from the skin and allow it to dissipate quickly. This can reduce heat stress due to excessive loss of fluids.

Managing Cold Stress

In cold working conditions, that same garment can serve as a base layer. Instead of getting soaked, the moisture will pass through the fabric to the next layer of clothing. This keeps the wearer insulated and dry.

This can protect workers from hypothermia, since clothing dampened by sweat can accelerate the effects of cold stress by increasing the rate of heat loss from the body.

Improved Safety and Comfort

Moisture wicking is also important for FR knit apparel because it can help prevent overheating and heatstroke. Sticky and wet clothing, moreover, can be distracting and need to be constantly adjusted. Heavy work clothes are also restrictive and uncomfortable, compromising the wearer's fine motor skills.

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Greater comfort also encourages safety compliance since workers might be tempted not to wear protective clothing that leaves them hot, damp, and unable to move with ease.

(Learn more in 3 Ways Moisture-Wicking Flame-Resistant Fabrics Can Improve Workplace Safety)

Choosing Job-Specific FR Shirts

Choosing a flame-resistant garment with moisture-wicking technology is an important step to protecting workers from the hazards of their job. Moisture-wicking garments should be selected based on the type of work they will be used for.

Considere these simple but effective design elements:

  • Certified arc-flash and flash-fire protection
  • Flat seam construction for greater comfort
  • Tag-free back collar to eliminate scratchy labels
  • Arm mobility to accommodate overhead reaching and side movements
  • Seamless underarms to eliminate seam pull, chafing, and shirt rise

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Written by Michael Schoonover | VP Marketing

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Mike Schoonover is Vice President of Marketing for Lakeland Industries, a global manufacturer of protective apparel. Mike has over 25 years of B2B sales and marketing experience working with a variety of safety equipment manufacturers.

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