Well, not in the sense that they don’t provide any benefits, because most of them do. But, it appears that many (not all) moisture wicking garments get smellier under certain circumstances than if you were wearing underwear made from natural fabrics like cotton. I know I’ve personally experienced this phenomena when I was doing my Sweat Challenge series last year and have since received emails from several readers, including this reader, who’ve also experienced it.
I’m still perplexed on why there’s so much allure with regard to moisture wicking underwear for use in every day wear. In sports, I totally get why’d you’d wear this kind of performance gear. But I just don’t see what they bring to the table for the majority of us looking for the reasonably priced underclothing that we wear most of the time. I will say that the synthetic fibers used in these types of undergarments do help in making the products fit and feel better because of their stretch and recovery, but I think those marketing people at the underwear companies need to rethink their strategy and focus less on the moisture wicking properties and more on things that matter to us.
I will say there is one exception here that comes to mind – if an underwear company is creating a line of “performance” undershirts and undergarments to be used in sports or working out, go ahead and tell the world it’s moisture wicking. Otherwise, don’t. Oh, and one other thing – I’ve been seeing a bunch of “marketing” that talks about how you can go from the office to the gym, and the gym to going out for a night on the town with their versatile moisture wicking underwear! Let’s be clear about one thing – that isn’t or shouldn’t be important to us – if you’re not changing your underwear/undershirts after you’ve worked out, you have bigger things to worry about.
Here’s the email exchange:
i saw your response on askmen.com and looked through your site. great website…very informational and educational. I have a question for you. I own underarmour boxer briefs, under armour crew t shirts for working out. I also own tommy john vnecks, calvin klein vnecks , and have 1 equmen shirt (and brief) for when I wear suit for work.
I find the moisture wicking shirts and boxer briefs stink unbearably after i sweat and even worse when I workout, particularly the underarmour and equmen. would this be because i wear the boxer briefs under my pants and the equmen under my dress shirt and they cant breathe well (i saw your moisture wicking article)? calvin and the tommy john second skin shirts dont stink nearly as bad. just curious what you suggest and reasons as to why this is happening.
thanks for stopping by my site and for sending in your question! also, thanks for the compliment on my site – I really do appreciate it!
it’s really a great question and I’m very happy you wrote in to ask. as you have personally experienced, moisture wicking clothes (including undershirts) are known to hold their odor and stink much worse than non-moisture wicking fabrics. in fact, I did a bunch of research on that a long time back, but I just never got around to putting together a comprehensive post about it. I uncovered lots of good information about about how and possibly why moisture wicking fabrics hold odor more and I also learned that performance garments treated with an anti-microbial treatment like Ultra-Fresh will resist odors more effectively than those that have not been treated. here’s a compilation of information I gathered well over a year ago when I was researching why moisture wicking undershirts tend to stink worse (and hold that smell) than natural fibers like cotton:
If you don’t like the idea of a commercial antiperspirant, use a rock crystal, available at most health or natural food stores. Rock crystals naturally protect against bacteria and therefore neutralize odor from sweat. It is effective for up to 24 hours and the sticks last forever. You can also apply rock crystal sticks to any part of your body that tends to sweat a lot.
When learning how to sweat-proof your clothes, make sure your clothes have that just-laundered smell all the time by dispersing a few fabric softener sheets throughout your closet and your drawers.
On particularly hot days, go for fabrics like cotton, silk, linen or light wool instead of polyester or other synthetics and blended fabrics. Natural fibers allow your skin to breathe more, meaning you’ll sweat less. When the mercury really rises, even if you plan to wear cotton or linen, pick feather-light pieces and choose shirts that are slightly larger than the size you usually wear to encourage air circulation and sweat evaporation.
Eliminate Body Odor for Good
Boric acid – One of the best products for treating body odor, and quite possibly the least known, is Boric Acid. It’s relatively cheap and works great. Simply apply it wherever you want to keep smell away after taking a bath. Boric Acid will slow down the spreading of bacteria. Using too much, however, can irritate the skin.
Deodorants/antiperspirants – Many deodorants only mask body odor, but some products actually fight bacteria. The most effective deodorants contain aluminum or zinc. Both elements are known to fight odor-causing bacteria.
Antiperspirants, on the other hand, clog sweat glands, so bacteria have nothing to interact with. Antibacterial soaps also help kill off those nasty pests.
that polyester and performance shirts are not all the same. You need to look at manufacturers that add an anti-microbial coating to their fabrics.
All untreated and a lot treated polyester shirts smell bad after you sweat in them. Oils from your skin (and possibly waste from bacterial activity) bond to the fibers and don’t come off easily. It’s a cumulative effect that gets worse over time.
I know that with cotton it is the tee, rather than the wearer that ends up smelling bad.
Do you know if they are washing the shirts using a fabric softener? This will block the “performance” of any wicking and anti-microbial shirt.
If the Vapors are being worn as undershirts, the sweat isn’t exposed to open air, will not be able to evaporate quickly, and may be why there is a smell
There is one thing to remember, do not use fabric softener when washing and drying Vapor garments. The chemicals in fabric softeners coat the fibers of the garment and lessen the performance of the shirt.
What’s really happening with respect to the smell is this: Your body has to types of sweat glands eccrine and apocrine. Eccrine glands produce the kind of sweat that makes you wet. Apocrine glands produce a fatty sweat which, when bacteria breaks it down, smells bad. Polyester fabrics have a net positive ionic charge that pulls in the oils (fat) from the sweat and hangs on to them. Soap is normally used to break these kinds of bonds to get the dirt off but in the case of polyester it’s ineffective because the bonds are so strong. Bacteria comes in, eats, multiplies and starts getting the funk on. The effect is cumulative so over time it gets worse and worse.
I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that the anti-microbial treatments try to deal with this by injecting negatively charged molecule that neutralizes the charge. Fabric softener apparently adversely affects this chemistry, probably by breaking the chain and re-introducing the negative charge.
in addition, back in mid-june 2009 I was contacted by a company that markets a detergent specifically designed to help remove odors from moisture wicking performance gear. the detergent is called WIN and you can read more about their product on my site here:
the question I would ask is why do you feel you need to wear moisture wicking under clothing (underwear & undershirts) for every day wear. if you sweat a lot, there may be value in wearing moisture wicking material primarily so you don’t feel as wet, but I would suspect that if your moisture wicking underwear is doing its job well, it might result in your outer clothes becoming more wet, unless you normally wear loose fitting outer clothing. if you don’t, then there probably isn’t a great reason to wear performance underwear regularly.
of course, it makes perfect sense to wear that kind of clothing when you work out, so it looks like you have a few options to consider:
1. if you normally use fabric softeners when you do laundry, you should think about washing those garments separately without
2. try washing those garments in performance detergents like WIN, or
3. look into buying alternative moisture wicking undershirts and underwear that are treated with anti-microbial treatments
if you try any of the above suggestions and find something works really well for you, please be sure to email me back and tell me how everything is going so we can share your experiences with my other readers.
hope the information above helps!
wow! thanks for the thorough response. i’m going to incorporate ultra fresh and win immediately and only wear moisture wicking shirts by themselves only for working out as for the moisture wicking bottoms from underarmour and equmen; my thoughts are that they are a marketing gimmick and would only work if i worked out or wore them by themselves without pants or shorts. they sound and look great, but the feel, performance, and stink factor is a serious let down.
stinky moisture wicking undergarments would be a great topic to post on as several of my friends have mentioned the same problems.