Ask Tug: Does a moisture wicking undershirt make the situation of sweating through to an outer layer of fabric worse?

Well yes, it sure is a long article title, but this is an important topic that we really need to get to the bottom of.

Reader “M” and I exchanged several emails over the course of the last couple of days and I wanted to share the information with everyone in hopes that, together, we can come up with a really good recommendation for others who are in the same situation as “M”.

Here’s his original question:

I was wondering if you could elaborate on this point below.

I have the same question…does a moisture-wicking undershirt actually make the situation of sweating through to an outer layer of fabric worse?

What “M” was referring to was my position about whether or not your outerwear would get wetter wearing a moisture wicking undershirt than if you were wearing a cotton undershirt.

Here’s something I wrote about a month ago and is what prompted M’s email:

While moisture-wicking clothing products are intended to keep you cooler by transferring moisture away from your body to the outer layer of the fabric, if you’re wearing an undershirt made out of that type of material, wouldn’t that lead you to believe that your outerwear would get wetter (especially in the underarm area) than if you were wearing an undershirt that absorbed moisture?

More information here: Moisture Wicking Undershirts versus Cotton Undershirts – Food for Thought

11/14/08 Update: I’ve been doing an undershirt comparison Sweat Challenge over the last month or so. Check out the posts to see what I’ve discovered.

Here’s more of our email exchange:

Tug: I don’t have any hard data to reference, but moisture wicking fabric (synthetic materials like polyester and nylon) don’t absorb water, so moisture (sweat) will get transferred from the body to the outer layer of the fabric where it can get exposed to air and evaporate.

If you’re wearing a moisture wicking undershirt, it’s fair to assume that sweat would move from your body to the outside of the undershirt, which would be in direct contact with your outerwear (your shirt).

It’s my assertion that if you sweat a lot and wear a moisture wicking undershirt, your outerwear will likely be wetter than if you were wearing an undershirt made of a material that will absorb moisture (like cotton).

So, I’m with you in thinking that wearing a moisture wicking undershirt will make sweating through to an outer layer worse.

But before I make any public claims, I will have to do a test comparing wearing a cotton undershirt and wearing a moisture wicking undershirt while working out or something similar.

M: Thank you for your response!

Given that conclusion and your knowledge on the topic, I do have an additional question.

Is there an undershirt you would recommend for mitigating “sweat through” to outerwear, considering that my sweating problem includes back/torso in addition to underarm?

I understand from your blog that you personally do not have this problem, but I thought you may have a perspective nonetheless.

Tug:

I can’t honestly say that I can recommend any specific undershirt that I know will address your needs, but I’d like to propose some ideas:

#1

Since I assume you’ve tried standard cotton undershirts, you may consider trying a thicker, heavy weight cotton undershirt or possibly one made out of a large percentage of modal.

From what I read, modal is supposed to have better absorption characteristics than traditional cotton.

So while it may feel a little warmer to wear than your average undershirt, it may perform better and keep your outer layer of clothing drier.

You should be able to find a decent selection of modal undershirts on www.freshpair.com or www.barenecessities.com

#2

While not a total solution, there are a few companies making underarm sweat guards.

Check out this post on my site for more information.

#3

There are undershirts available that are made out of blends like cotton & coolmax where you might get a combination of benefits.

Enough moisture wicking fabric to pull moisture away from your skin, coupled with enough cotton to absorb moisture.

I am about to review this v-neck undershirt from Duluth Trading Company that has this kind of blend (64% cotton/36% coolmax).

You might want to give it a try.

#4

You may want to try out a ribbed undershirt such as the Boss Orange Label, cotton ringer from Emporio Armani, or RibbedTee (search the blog for those product names to find out more).

These undershirts are made of material similar to the 2×1 ribbed fabric used in wifebeaters (a-shirts, tank tops), but have sleeves to cover the armpit area, and may possibly breath better than a typical cotton tee.

The breathability factor may balance keeping you cooler with enough absorption characteristics to keep your outerwear modestly dry.

Although, since these types of tops are generally fitted, you may want to buy a size or two larger so there is some room between your body and the undershirt for air to circulate.

If you decide to try out one of the undershirts above, I would love to hear back from you to find out if one of them performed better for you than typical cotton undershirts.

M: Thanks, Tug. This is great! One final question…what are your thoughts on Vdri as a solution to this problem? If memory serves, you spoke highly of this brand in a previous review.

Tug: I really like the mesh 100% moisture wicking polyester fabric used in the Vdri undershirts, but it’s hard to say whether or not that undershirt/fabric would perform better or worse than any other moisture wicking undershirt for your particular problem.

What’s your plan?

Are you going to order from a couple of these companies and try out their undershirts?

M: Thanks again for your answers to my questions. It’s very much appreciated.

Yes, that’s exactly what I intend to do. I’m going to do some more “research” and then some trial and error.

FYI, I’m not sure if you’ve run across this or not, but I’ve tried Kleinert shirts.

Their whole premise is “no sweat through”, but I don’t find that claim to be true.

On top of that, because the fabric is synthetic instead of cotton, it makes me warmer than I’d otherwise be, and therefore I tend to actually sweat more.

The combination of more sweat + not delivering on the sweat-proof claim literally equates to “the worst of both worlds.”

Thanks again! M

Well folks, stay tuned for feedback from our friend M and in the meantime, I’m going to try to do a stress test by working out with a cotton undershirt and a moisture wicking undershirt while wearing an outer shirt.

3 thoughts on “Ask Tug: Does a moisture wicking undershirt make the situation of sweating through to an outer layer of fabric worse?”

  1. I am an 8th grade Honors Science student working on my science project. As an athlete for my high school baseball team I am aware of the variety of materials athletic apparel is made of. My project consists of testing different types of materials to see which one repels moisture the best. Can you share any information as to how you all test for this? Also, which materials have you found to be the top sellers to athletes for keeping moisture away from the skin? Finally, any information you can share with me on the materials themselves would be very helpful. Thank you for your help with this.

    Lucas

    Reply
    • hello lucas,

      thanks for stopping by my site and posting your question about moisture wicking shirts.

      to be quite candid, I really do not focus on athletic apparel, so I may be of limited help to you for your project. however, I can tell you that there are different approaches when it comes to moisture wicking fabrics.

      the most common type of moisture wicking fabrics are polyester, nylon, blends of poly/nylon or any other synthetic-made fabric. these materials do not normally absorb moisture so they are commonly used in athletic apparel. there are many brand names for synthetic fabrics, and some companies hide the fact that they are comprised mostly of polyester. of course the most popular performance apparel are offered from companies like under armour, nike, adidas, skins, etc. one popular moisture wicking/polyester fabric is called coolmax. there is another company that offers a variety of moisture wicking clothing called wickers.

      there are other type of moisture wicking treatments. some are solutions that are applied to material (via washing) after the garment is made and others, like a product called nano-tex video (no longer available), are manufactured directly into the garment.

      if you’re looking to test the effectiveness of moisture wicking fabric, I believe one way to do this would be to purchase a variety of performance apparel from sports stores, walmart, target, etc., make sure they are all the same size garment, weigh each one of them dry, then put all of them in the washer or a tub of water and soak them good. pull them out of the tub of water, shake them off a bit, then weigh them again. the shirts that have the least difference in before/after weight are the ones that absorbed the least amount of water, and thus, one could come to a conclusion that they are the best performers of the bunch.

      here are some additional resources for you to look at:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Layered_clothing#wicking-materials
      http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-moisture-wicking-fabric.htm
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Under_Armour

      hope the above information helps you with your school project. please keep me posted on how it goes and what you find with your testing!

      best,
      tug

      Reply
  2. Hi, I actually found this Hanes crewneck undershirt that has moisture wicking property but made of 100% cotton. It’s available at Sears.

    Reply

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