Cheap Moisture-Wicking Clothing for Summer Workouts

By Olivia Lin,

Whether it's a damp workout shirt or stains showing through a dress shirt, sweat can be unsightly and odorous. Fitness apparel retailers such as Nike, Champion, and Uniqlo sell "moisture-wicking" clothing that moves moisture away from the body. The goal is to keep wearers cool and comfortable with better air circulation during strenuous athletic activity. A plain white moisture-wicking t-shirt can be had for as little as $7 and upwards of $25.

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How does wicking work? Synthetic fabrics used in moisture-wicking clothing, like nylon and polyester, don't absorb fluids so they feel less damp and clingy when you sweat. Most wicking clothing also features lightweight construction. The C9 by Champion (starting sale price of $7.50), for example, is made of cotton and polyester. Reviewers who posted comments at Target tell of staying cool while working out, adding that the shirt dries quickly, and, thankfully, isn't so thin as to be see-through. Some of Nike Dri-FIT's high-performance clothing is 100 percent polyester and designed to wick perspiration right to the surface for evaporation. Consumers who reviewed the Nike Legend Dri-FIT Poly S/S Crew Top (starting at $22) at Zappos like the light, breathable material that keeps the shirt flowing rather than clinging.

Other brands' moisture-wicking products are more elaborate and only slightly more expensive. The Thompson Tee (starting at $25) boasts 100 percent premium, combed, preshrunk cotton. There's also a sweat barrier that's actually built in between the layers, which helps heat and moisture evaporate. Under Armour's Charged Cotton Undeniable T-Shirt for women (starting at $25) sounds similar, with a tri-blend of cotton/polyester/rayon, a slim athletic cut, and anti-microbial technology that eliminates odors. The company's patented Signature Moisture Transport System also works like Nike's Dri-FIT, pushing sweat to the surface for faster drying.

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Does moisture-wicking performance clothing do the job better than 100 percent cotton shirts? Several years ago The Undershirt Guy conducted a "sweat challenge" by testing three different undershirts during separate 10k cardiovascular workouts on his elliptical. He compared the amount of moisture that transferred to the second shirt he wore on top. He noticed that a 100 percent combed cotton undershirt performed slightly better than a shirt made entirely with Coolmax, a proprietary fabric, although the Coolmax undershirt seemed to dry quickly after he removed it. A nylon lycra moisture-wicking undershirt kept him cool and comfortable for the duration of the workout and also transferred less sweat to the outer t-shirt. The takeaway: moisture-wicking performance depends on the brand.

One factor to consider is the type of material that best suits your preferred workout. Are you doing cardiovascular exercise (e.g., jogging, biking) where you'll sweat throughout or high-intensity interval training where fast burpees are mixed in with stationary positions? If you're looking for performance-wear that rapidly absorbs sweat and will be shed immediately post-workout, 100 percent cotton clothing might do the job. But if you need something lightweight that dries quickly (i.e., in the event you're facing a cold, air-conditioned ride home), you should opt for moisture-wicking clothing made with synthetic material.

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Moisture-wicking shirts don't have to cost a lot if you know where to shop. Retailers like Burlington Coat Factory, Marshall's, and T.J. Maxx always stock discounted name-brand active-wear separates (plan to spend time scouring the racks). Costco, BJ's Wholesale Club, Target, Walmart, Kmart, and Kohl's carry cheaper variations with the same wicking benefits; C9 by Champion, for example. If you're looking for mid-range products, check out Old Navy's large selection of active-wear.

An investment in moisture-wicking gear demands that you give it the proper care and attention. Unlike cotton and other natural fibers, synthetic materials such as nylon, polyester, and latex can trap bacteria and hold odors even after washing. Most manufacturers' instructions call for a low-wash cycle in cold water with no fabric softener, but be sure to inspect tags. If odors persist, you can buy special detergent made for synthetic active-wear or soak the clothes in white vinegar or baking soda. Of course, as with any article of clothing, especially one that's full of sweat, soak it in cold water first and then wash it ASAP.

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