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What is COOLMAX®?

By Karen E. Spaeder
Updated: Mar 03, 2024

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.

Basic Concept

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.

Eco-Conscious Options

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.

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Discussion Comments
By Monika — On May 15, 2012

I am really interested in the COOLMAX garments made from recycled plastic bottles. This is an awesome way to use plastic, since it doesn't biodegrade. I can also vouch for this kind of fiber.

I've actually used yarn for knitting that was made from recycled plastic, and it felt exactly the same as any other yarn! So I think a garment made from recycled plastic would feel the same as any other kind of processed, synthetic fiber. I'm going to look for this next time I'm shopping for athletic wear!

By JaneAir — On May 14, 2012

@sunnySkys - That's interesting about bamboo. I guess that just goes to show that you should really do your research before you purchase something just because it's advertised as "environmentally friendly."

Anyway, I think it's kind of amazing that polyester fabric can be made to keep you dry. I feel like polyester is usually a heavy, sweater kind of fabric. I remember wearing cheap pants made of polyester when I was younger, and they made me sweat a lot! It's crazy how far textile technology has come in just a few years.

By sunnySkys — On May 14, 2012

I have never tried Cool Max fabric before, but I have tried other moisture wicking brands of workout clothing. I've been generally happy with the results, so I imagine this type of moisture wicking gear works just fine.

I did want to point out a few things for environmentally concerned people though. I know bamboo has been touted as an extremely environmentally friendly fiber. It is, but only to a point. Bamboo plants are sustainable, but bamboo goes through a ton of processing just to become a fiber that is basically rayon.

So the growing bamboo is OK on the environment, but processing the fiber really isn't.

By kylee07drg — On May 13, 2012

I have seen a lot of bikers wearing COOLMAX clothing in the summer. I drive up the Natchez Trace toward Nashville a few times during this season, and I encounter many cyclists along the way at rest stops.

I have seen the COOLMAX logo on their gear while talking to them. The cyclists have told me that when it comes to wicking away sweat, this is the best type of material they have found.

I know that they can get pretty hot while pedaling uphill on this road. In fact, most of the journey is uphill, so they really benefit from the COOLMAX clothes.

By cloudel — On May 13, 2012

I wear COOLMAX socks, shorts, and a sleeveless top while running. I like to go for long runs, and I can’t stand to stay wet with sweat the whole time.

The special fabric keeps me from feeling icky, and this makes me able to run longer. I don’t get as hot when I’m wearing it, either, because the material can breathe more easily than even cotton can.

I love the fact that the material doesn’t wrinkle, too. I recently packed up all my COOLMAX garments to take on my beach vacation, because I intended to go for a run along the shore every morning. The fabric stayed totally wrinkle-free, and I didn’t even have to take it out of the suitcase and hang it up once I arrived.

By Oceana — On May 13, 2012

@StarJo - If you use fabric softener on COOLMAX fabric, then you will destroy its ability to keep moisture off the body. Fabric softener is designed to leave residue on clothes, and this clogs up the open weave of special moisture-wicking fabric.

I made this mistake once, and my COOLMAX shirt never worked again. I bought another one, and this time, I make sure to hang it up to dry instead of putting it in the dryer with fabric softener. The spin cycle gets it almost completely dry, anyway, so it really doesn’t need to go in the dryer.

I don’t know if you know this, but you should also avoid washing COOLMAX garments with fluffy items like towels. The fuzz will cling to them and keep them from working to their full capacity.

By StarJo — On May 12, 2012

My husband wears COOLMAX clothing to work. He has to do heavy lifting for eleven hours a day in a refrigerated warehouse, so he has to wear a couple of layers of clothing to stay warm.

However, he does sweat from all the physical labor, and having sweat trapped against your body in a cool environment is not a good thing. This is why he wears the COOLMAX underneath his sweatshirt and sweatpants. It keeps him dry all day long.

I have never used fabric softener on these garments, but it is a pain to have to dry them separately. Just out of curiosity, what would happen if I did put a fabric softener sheet in a load with COOLMAX garments?

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