Breathable Fabrics Defined for the Apparel Industry

Fabrics are frequently described as being “breathable".  Does this mean that the fabric is alive?  Sorry, but that is not the appropriate answer.

In summary, breathable fabric allows moisture to pass thru.

Breathability is an easy way of saying “moisture vapor transmission rate".  MVTR is the measure of how quickly (or how slowly) moisture passes through a fabric or other substance.  It is usually measured in g/m²/day, or the mass of moisture that passes through a square meter of fabric in 24 hours.  Moisture vapor transmission rate (MVTR), is also referred to as water vapor transmission rate (WVTR).

There are many industries where moisture control is critical.   The apparel industry would be one of them.  In regard to clothing, MVTR as a measure of breathability has contributed to greater comfort for wearers of clothing for outdoor activity.

For those of you that would like to learn about breathable fabrics, we recommend that you read what Andrew Skurka wrote about breathability.  Here is a brief example of portion of what he wrote on the subject, “breathability is an oversimplification of MVTR: whereas MVTR measures a degree, breathability is used as an absolute.  Specifically, if the MVTR of a fabric is greater than zero, the fabric can be described as “breathable," even if realistically it is not. (There is no industry standard for breathability.)  So, for example, even a body suit made of painter’s plastic could be described as “breathable" if the suit had a few needle-sized vents in it, because in theory moisture could pass through these vents."

Natural fibers, man-made fibers, or blended fibers can be breathable (some more than others).

Linen absorbs and releases perspiration quickly, thus allowing the fabric to "breathe".  Linen is one of higher performing of the natural breathable fabrics, making it especially cool and comfortable to wear in the heat.   As stated, man-made fibers can produce breathable fabric as well.  For example, Polyester has good wicking properties.

You may want to read other fabric definitions in our textile glossary.

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