Hydrophilic is the technical term that a textile expert would use to refer to the quality of a fabric that will absorb water. You need an absorbent fabric for a lot of things. Imagine sweat staying on your skin without getting absorbed for a long time on your skin after you exercise or the baby getting uncomfortable in his cloth diaper because it is wet and stays so, or a dribble bib keeping all those dribbles intact on the surface.
You must want the absorbing fabric for any number of applications like making underwear, reusable wipes, sportswear, bedsheets, reusable cloth nappies, nappy inserts, bibs, burp-cloths, pet beds, absorbent mattress covers, yoga towels, women’s cloth pads etc.
Water absorbing ability is in great demand when making clothes – along with moisture wicking ability, which may or maynot be present with absorbency.
Some clothes need the highest level of absorption, some not so much. Some need evaporation of water from the skin, some not so much. The fabric chosen for these depends not only on the type of fabric and how the moisture is taken up along its fibers, but how thick or heavy it is too.
Water absorbing fabrics
Branded High performance fabrics
There are super absorbent branded fabrics like Zorb® fabric produced by Wazoodle. These are trademarked fabrics and can be bought in specific authorised stores. Zorb fabric is supposed to be many times more absorbent than any other fabric. Other options are fabrics made with Coolmax® or Coolmax® PRO technology
Hydrophilic non woven fabric
This is a highly absorbent material you would use inside sanitary napkin pads, or as disposable bedsheets on hospital beds. This non-woven fabric really needs to be absorbent and they are. At the same time, it is comfortable against the skin. It can be made of fibers of polyester, rayon, cotton, and blends.
Made from the pulp of the beech tree, this semi synthetic fabric is one of the most absorbent fabric. It is said to be more absorbent than cotton. A modal-cotton mix fabric has most of the advantages of the two fibers. It is super soft against the skin.
Linen absorbs more moisture than cotton. It is also more expensive than cotton.
Cotton is a natural fabric (woven Cotton & Cotton interlock or jersey knit fabric) with a great ability to absorb moisture readily and the best thing is that it dries fast. The cotton knit fabrics are more absorbent than woven cotton.
Cotton waffle pique fabric is a very absorbent fabric which is used to make bathroom and kitchen towels which needs this quality the most.
Rayon has greater water absorbency than linen or cotton. One disadvantage is that the fibers are weakened by moisture – it loses upto 50% of its strength when it is wet.
Wool fabric and its many types are naturally hydrophilic. They absorb moisture very readily and at the same time make the body feels warm.
French Terry Towelling fabric
This is a fabric with a lot of short loops on the top surface (the other side is smooth) and this helps in the absorbency part. Cotton and bamboo toweling fabric have superior absorbent and drying abilities.
Fleece is available in many fibers like cotton fleece, bamboo fleece, and hemp fleece. Cotton fleece is a fluffy fabric with good enough absorbency. Microfleece is thin and very soft fleece fabric with great water absorbency as well as moisture wicking ability. Polar fleece is a thicker fabric but less absorbent. Bamboo fleece is usually a blend of bamboo and cotton fibers. Learn more on fleece fabric here.
This is a highly absorbent eco friendly material. You can read more about Bamboo fabric here.
This is a synthetic fabric with great absorbency. We use micro fiber fabric as cleaning cloths and dish cloths as it is one of the most absorbent of all fabrics. But one disadvantage is that it cannot hold on to the water it has wicked. The water will leak so that will need to be soaked by another natural fabric layer.
Plush is a fluffy soft synthetic fabric with a cut pile (velvet like) on the surface, which makes it super soft. It is used for making cloth nappies because it is soft and it is absorbent.
Hemp is a fabric made from fibers taken from the hemp plant (Cannabis sativa). It is a natural fabric with many advantages like warmth, softness, breathability, durability, eco-friendliness, and great absorbency. The structure of the hem fibers allows moisture to be absorbed fast from the body. It looks almost like linen fabric so looks wise also great. It is available in many forms and grades – like burlap cloth. The fabric is very much suitable for clothing because it is comfortable on the skin and hypoallergenic.
This is a fabric with a brushed surface made of wool-carded yarns. It has a fuzzy look and feels and this makes it very absorbing. The disadvantage is that it is a comparatively thin fabric and as a single layer it may not be super absorbent. Another name for Flannel is Flannelette.