COOLMAX® is a brand of polyester fabric that is specially designed to wick moisture away from the body. It is manufactured by INVISTA Apparel, and was originally designed for endurance athletes who sweat a lot. The material is used in many different applications today, either alone or blended with other things. It relies on an intricate weave of synthetic fibers to basically pull moisture off the skin, then spread it out along the garment’s surface so that it will evaporate faster. Polyester material isn’t usually thought of as “eco-friendly,” and the same company that makes this material also makes a more environmentally sustainable option made from recycled plastic bottles. That option isn’t available everywhere and tends to be more expensive than the original. Though most researchers believe that COOLMAX® was one of the first moisture-wicking materials to become widely available to consumers, it is by no means the only choice today, and in fact tends to see a lot of competition from other brands and marketers looking for a stake in the active clothing sector.
This sort of material is commonly described as “moisture-wicking” because of the ways in which is wicks or pulls moisture away from the skin. Some people compare this to a dry sponge that sucks water. The biggest difference is usually that, while a sponge is thick and bulky, moisture-wicking fabric tends to be sleek, flat, and flexible. Most of the people who wear it choose it for exactly these reasons: many are athletes or are engaging in activities where they know they’ll be sweating, and the material’s ability to wick that sweat away makes it easier and more comfortable to keep going.
How It’s Made
The fabric is made with a complex weaving pattern. Though it’s hard to see when looking at garments casually, each is made from individual fibers that have been woven, typically is what’s known as a tetrachannel style. This weaving is done exclusively by machine, and each individual fiber is very, very small.
On a microscopic level, the material is anything but flat — it has raised and grooved surfaces, and pathways for moisture to come up and then spread out. A single droplet of sweat absorbed by the fiber will usually be pulled to the outermost layer of the garment, where it will be quickly dispersed and forced to separate along the material’s surface. It tends to evaporate much faster this way.
Why It’s Popular
This material ends to be very popular with athletes, and is frequently worn during activities that require a high level of exertion like running, bicycling, and aerobics. Its makers also tout other benefits, such as resistance to fading, shrinking, and wrinkling. When worn during an intensive workout, people often feel like they’re sweating less since their clothing is wicking that moisture away. At the same time, the fabric’s weave also allows air to move in and keep the body cool and dry.
Care and Cleaning
Like most workout wear, garments made with this fabric are usually machine washable and dryable. The material dries quickly once washed, however, and many people find that it’s easiest to simply hang the garments as they come out of the wash to allow any residual moisture to dry naturally. Fabric softener and chlorine bleach are not usually advised. Specific care instructions in individual garments provide a more detailed look at how to care for each based on style and added features like zippers and decorations.
Environmental sustainability is a priority for many modern clothing consumers, especially where synthetics are concerned. Most polyester fibers are made with plastic products that have been processed and extracted from the earth using fossil fuels, and then are manufactured in ways that many say are not “green.” Many textile manufacturers have answered consumers' calls for environmental sustainability through the use of organic cotton fabric. Cotton, however, is not known for its moisture-wicking properties. Athletes who perspire heavily often avoid cotton, as the fabric tends to hold moisture in rather than letting it evaporate.
In response to the demand for sustainable fabrics that are also designed for high-exertion activities, INVISTA introduced COOLMAX® EcoMade fiber, which is made from recycled plastic bottles. The fabric is said to offer the same performance capabilities as the original fabric while also helping to keep plastic bottles out of landfills. To create the fabric, post-consumer plastic bottles are cleaned and transformed into a polyester yarn to be used in apparel products.
Competing Products and Brands
INVISTA is not alone in the performance apparel industry. Other brands have entered the market with fabrics that also tout a garments’ ability to wick moisture away from the body and keep an athlete cool. Bamboo fiber is one example of such an innovation, and is one that also has been marketed for its environmental sustainability.