Self-watering systems are handy in situations where you’ll be away from home. And many people are resorting to simple DIY solutions such as building water-wicking pots.
In this article, I provide the best material for water wicking based on how well it absorbs water and transfers it to the soil. I also consider the value of money by looking at its durability and water-wicking capabilities, because no one wants to waste time replacing them!
The three best water-wicking materials to create a self-watering planter are nylon ropes, cotton ropes, and wool-pressed felt fabric.
When choosing the right material for wick watering your plant, you need to consider your plant’s needs, pot size, and the environment that it’s in.
For example, if you’re trying to self-water a Pothos, you’ll need to pick a wicking material that is capable of transferring water quickly. But the opposite would apply to say succulents.
Toward the end of this blog post, I suggest two water-wicking materials to AVOID!
What Are the Best Water Wicking Material for Planters?
Nylon ropes are arguably the best wicking material to achieve self-watering planters because they absorb water well to deliver a capillary action.
Most nylon ropes have a loose fiber core and a braided outer sheath. The very fine gaps contained in the fibers allow the water molecules to climb up the material against gravity.
As nylon ropes have excellent water absorption, they’re able to sink to the bottom of a water reservoir. This is important for the rope to remain submerged for the constant stream of water supply to the roots. Polyester ropes, on the other hand, tend to float.
Other characteristics of the nylon rope that makes it an attractive wicking option:
- Strong and durable – Nylon ropes are made from synthetic materials that don’t deteriorate when submerged in water for long periods. They have good resistance to UV and are unaffected by decay and mildew, unlike other types of ropes such as the cotton ones.
- Availability – Pieces of nylon ropes can be found can almost everywhere in retail stores and online.
- Easy to clean – Nylon ropes are easy to clean off with detergent to wash off build-up, debris, and dirt.
Nylon ropes are my favorite wick-watering ropes to use. They’re easy to find, inexpensive, and versatile in any self-watering system.
Cotton Ropes (And Other Forms of Cotton)
Cotton may possibly be the second best material to be used as a wick watering material due to its accessibility and high water absorbency. Cotton material probably loses its competitiveness over nylon ones because cotton naturally decomposes over time.
With cotton, you can use pieces of old clothing and turn them into rolls or strips of wicking material.
Most people have worn-out shirts that are too embarrassing to be worn to the public. Other options include socks, underwear, and towels. So, have a look around the house to see if you can grab one of these household items.
But if you don’t have available cotton at home, you can ask friends and family for a piece. Chances are, someone will surely have a piece of cotton for you.
Otherwise, cotton ropes are quite affordable at discount stores.
Any cotton material is good for wick-watering due to its high absorbency and capillary action.
Cotton soaks up water quickly and holds a large amount of water. The high absorbency draws moisture from a water source rapidly and transfers it to the plant’s roots efficiently.
Cotton fibers also have a natural capillary action that allows them to pull water upward against gravity. This is an important feature in most self-wicking pots because the reservoir sits at the base of the pot and water needs to be fed upwards into the soil.
However, the problem with natural cotton as a water wick material is that it’s prone to bacterial and fungal attacks.
I have tried to use old cotton clothing pieces for a few weeks before the system started changing color and smelling bad. This is likely due to bacteria and other microorganisms eating away the natural fiber. Some of my friends who’ve also tried using cotton reported rotting are prolonged use.
Wool Felt Fabrics
Wool felt fabrics are decent wick watering due to good dampening properties and absorbance.
Felt is a type of matted fabric made from wool that is condensed and pressed together. They also come in acrylic and other forms of synthetic fibers.
Wool felt fabrics that have been made for wick watering purposes are usually shaped in the form of tape or rope, as follows:
Felt provides predictable and consistent fluid transfer for plant soil. The material is very absorbent and retains many times its weight in fluids.
Outside of self-watering systems, wool felt fabrics have applications in transferring grease, in, oil and perfumes.
What Are the Bad Water Wicking Materials?
Two water-wicking systems are less common: capillary watering mats and Polyester braided ropes.
Capillary Watering Mat
Some Capillary Watering Mats are made from thick polypropylene that claims to absorb water and provide seedling containers with constant moisture.
One example of such a product is the one below:
The idea is that the mat is thick enough to make contact with the soil at the base of the seedling pot.
The problem is that these capillary mats are very expensive in comparison with other water-wicking materials, and they’re essentially just pieces of fabric. They barely reach the base of the soil. You can simply use towels that do the same job!
Polyester Braided Ropes
Polyester braided ropes do not absorb water and therefore not suitable for any wick watering system. This is obviously a problem as you’ll end up with still and unused water that may attract mosquitoes, one of the problems with self-watering systems.
They’re sometimes mistaken for nylon ropes because they somewhat look similar but each is made from different material. Polyester braided ropes feel like plastic whereas nylon has a soft and silky feel.
When crafting a self-watering system, you should be able to use nylon ropes in most situations. They’re inexpensive and easily accessible. Other good options available are cotton pieces and wool felt fabrics.
Once you have built yourself a self-watering system, you may want to check out my suggestions for the best plants to grow in self-watering pots.
Thanks for making it this far and best wishes for your crafts!