Cool Threads

Tech Clothing to Beat the Heat

Michael Lawson, Writer
Reading Time: 4 minutes
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Perspiration is a fact of life for everyone. Some people perspire more than others, but we all do it to some degree, especially when temperatures start to climb. Perspiring is your body’s way of cooling itself as it allows moisture to evaporate from your skin.

Our bodies maintain a constant temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. But during roof work, the body can experience very high levels of heat stress and reach dangerous temperature levels. According to OSHA, more than 4,000 heat-related illnesses are reported each year – and more than 30 deaths occur from these illnesses.

The Wonder Of Wicking

Because water conducts heat far better than air, removing moisture from your skin is the best way to regulate body temperature. High-performance moisture-wicking fabrics, originally developed for athletes, are now used to manufacture shirts, pants and vests that make it easier for perspiration to evaporate and help roofers and other workers avoid overheating.

Don’t confuse breathability, which refers to airflow, and wicking. Cotton is probably the most breathable fabric around, but it absorbs liquid and can make you feel like you’re wearing a wet, clammy dishrag. Worse, it can encourage heat rash and chafing. Breathable, non-absorbent polyester is a popular choice for high-tech wear, but not all polyester items also wick away the moisture of your workday.

Many companies in the protection apparel industry promote the comfort of their garments; the real test, however, is how the clothes perform in the field.

“Most of my guys wear (Nike) Dri-FIT,” said Zach Wilkerson, one of the owners of J Key Roofing in north Georgia. When J Key ordered company shirts – T-shirt style for roofers and collared shorts for the sales team – it chose Dri-FIT.

“It allows air to get in,” he said. “When you get all sweaty, the shirt lets you cool off. And it dries fast.”

The principle of wicking works, no matter what the season. In winter, wearing lightweight layers that wick moisture, including outerwear, also help regulate body temperature. Lighter weight and moisture wicking are two garment characteristics recognized by OSHA in combating heat stress.

Wicking fibers, which have a micro-capillary structure, quickly pull moisture away from your skin and release it on the top of the fabric to evaporate. You stay cooler and drier, no matter how active you are. While providing the cooling effect of cotton and linen, modern wicking fabrics do a better job of moving moisture away from the skin by quickly spreading moisture out across the fabric to accelerate the evaporation rate.

The primary benefit of this technology is how it helps your body stay cool, dry and comfortable so you can focus on work or summer activities you enjoy. Specially engineered high-performance moisture-wicking fabrics also keep you comfortable because they are made with fibers that are soft and breathable. Clothes made with moisture-wicking fabric are also easy to care for with standard machine washing and drying. Of course, they dry quicker too, reducing dryer usage or line-dry time.

Cool, Not Costly

Many protection apparel makers are now producing clothes that can help those who work in high-temperature job conditions. Keep in mind, however, that clothes have to be durable enough to go to work and withstand the rigors of the job site. Here are two examples to examine:

Safety Smart Gear sells an economical high-visibility T-shirt made with a moisture wicking "Birdseye" fabric that helps keep workers comfortable and dry. Featuring a left chest pocket and reflective safety stripes, the shirt has become popular for roofers and workers in other industries where heat relief and job safety standards are required.

Coolworks® ventilated work pants were created by workers, for workers. The idea was to create clothing that combined the comfort and coolness of a pair of shorts with the protection offered by pants. Coolworks® by Meshwear Technologies Inc. also makes short- and long-sleeved T-shirts.

Before you get deep into working in the sun this summer, take time to check out wicking work garments. High-tech work wear with moisture-wicking technology can help you stay cool in the hot world of roofing.