Hydrophobic T-Shirts are Miraculous – Until You Wash Them

By Adam Clark Estes on at

A few weeks ago, an Australian startup offered to send me a T-shirt. I'm not normally on the T-shirt beat, but this one was special. The 100 per cent cotton garment featured "patented hydrophobic nanotechnology" to make it super stain-resistant. "I'll be the judge of that," I thought, and a few days later the Threadsmiths T-shirt arrived in the mail.

Naturally, the first thing I did with my new hydrophobic T-shirt was dump water on it. The water rolled right off – impressive. I called my roommate in to watch water beads roll harmlessly off the fabric like raindrops on a car window. The shirt wasn't even wet to the touch afterwards. We ooo'ed and ahhh'ed as we tried other liquids on this miraculous cotton-of-the-future. The T-shirt worked just as advertised.

That's what happens when the shirt is brand new — but what happens when you wash it? Threadsmiths told me that the shirt's hydrophobic properties would last "up to 50 washes if it is cared for properly". That sounded like a lot of washes, so I decided to test the shirt again after five washes. Things got messy.

In real life, the Threadsmiths Hydrophobic T-shirt loses its liquid-repelling properties pretty quickly. The test was simple. We basically just poured a bunch of gross stuff — beer, soy sauce, red wine, and chilli sauce — on the washed shirt. Then we poured the same gross stuff on a brand new unwashed shirt. The washed shirt absorbed some of the liquid. The unwashed shirt absorbed less of it. Neither dealt with the chilli sauce very well at all. And boy, does it stink when you mix all four of those liquids together in a small windowless room.

That's not to say it's a bad T-shirt. On the contrary, the fabric is soft and sturdy. The fit is svelte. The hydrophobic qualities aren't even that gimmicky, because even after being washed, the shirt definitely resists stains better than your standard cotton T-shirt. It's hardly a miracle, though.

The hydrophobic shirt can get wet, for instance. Think of it as water resistant, rather than waterproof. If you go running in the rain while wearing the hydrophobic shirt, the water will likely bead off of it at first, but then it'll soak through. Similarly, if you stand in front of a camera in a small windowless and pour a bunch of stinky liquids on the front of your shirt, it will get wet and become less hydrophobic. I learned that lesson the hard way.

Inevitably, taking good care of a hydrophobic T-shirt isn't much more complicated than taking care of a regular T-shirt. If you spill something the best thing to do is hit it with water. Trying to brush it off with your hand will only push the liquid into the fabric and probably cause a stain. While the washed hydrophobic T-shirt sometimes showed some stains after a spill, it always came back clean from the laundry. So you could certainly say that it's stain resistant.

Is the Threadsmiths shirt special? Sure, why not. Do special things get worn out? You bet they do. Should you buy it? That depends on your T-shirt budget, I guess.

Video and GIF by Michael Hession