Abstract In this study, various hygroscopic effects of such parameters as hygrothermal temperature, matrix volume ratio ( V m), void volume ratio ( V v), specimen thickness, lay-up sequence and internal stress were investigated for epoxy/carbon fiber composite laminates. The specimen thickness and lay-up sequence had little effect on the through-the-thickness water absorption behavior of composite laminates, but the other parameters affected the moisture absorption rate and equilibrium water uptake in different ways and intensities. The glass transition temperature of composite laminates was strongly affected and linearly decreased by the quantity of equilibrium water uptake. A characteristic length of moisture migration through the unidirectional laminates was proposed as a function of fiber angle to the exposed laminate surface. In this approach, the fibers imbedded in the matrix were assumed to act as a barrier to the penetrating water molecules, and the developed model was well compared with the experimental results.