This T-Shirt Is Supposed to ‘Clean Itself.’ Does It?

Photo: Kennedy DeSousa/Courtesy of Silic

We spill a lot of stuff in my house. I’m the main klutz, but my 17-month-old is showing signs of surpassing me one day soon. And occasionally our dog will join in, too, by knocking over a drink while jumping onto the couch. Here’s an embarrassing fact to illustrate the point: We own a ratty, old “spill towel” that exists solely to sop up wet messes.

All of this is why I’ve asked Aamir Patel to send me one of his Silic shirts for a test run in my home laboratory. In late 2013, Patel launched a Kickstarter campaign for the “shirt that cleans itself,” and it quickly blew past the $20,000 fundraising goal he set. By the time the campaign ended, Patel received nearly $300,000 from more than 4,000 backers. Apparently, I’m not alone.

The Silic shirt relies on microscopic silica particles that are bonded to its 100 percent polyester fabric. This creates an imperceptibly thin layer of air that keeps liquids from touching the fabric and prevents absorption. Instead, liquid beads up and rolls off. In a promotional video, the shirt repels Gatorade, soda, water, and coffee.

This type of technology has long been hyped as the harbinger of a future free of laundry. But how does it stand up to the rigors of real life? I put a black one (because that’s the color Patel sent) through a series of tests to find out.

The Spill Test

For the first test, I tried to mimic the kinds of messes most people make on their shirts. I poured water, milk, and coffee down my chest and watched each of them bounce off and hit the floor. Other than a puddle, there was no sign of a spill. I then took the shirt off and held it over the sink — I was done with puddles and mopping — and dumped on chunky salsa and Tapatio, a couple of my other most-spilled substances. The Silic shirt performed with aplomb. It didn’t look or feel wet. There were no streaks of color remaining and no lingering smells. After all those spills, it was identical to the shirt I pulled out of the package.

Maple syrup and mustard presented bigger challenges. Like the thinner liquids, syrup rolled off, but unlike the others, it left behind small, sticky beads. A little water rinsed them away, and the shirt looked no worse for it. A squirt of mustard hung around longer than anything else. I tried the water trick again, and while the mustard rinsed away, it took enough water that the shirt was starting to soak. That kind of defeats the purpose.

The result: Pass. The Silic shirt repelled watery liquids without issue and the thicker stuff just needed a little help.

The Cooking Test

I might make a mess of my clothes while eating, but I ruin them cooking. Grease spots are especially annoying. So I put the Silic shirt on and simulated an evening in the kitchen by dumping a bunch of stuff on myself.

Olive oil rolled off without issue. Bacon grease slowly dripped off but left behind some residue. Instead of rinsing, I tried wiping away what was left. That removed the remnants, and there was no dark, discoloration that usually results from a grease stain. I sprayed myself with cooking spray, and it stayed where it was, which isn’t much of a surprise given how thin the layer of spray was. But like the grease, it wiped off. Soy sauce and vinegar rolled away just like all the other liquids. Honey did not, though I was able to rinse it off (which is more than could be said for honey on a cotton shirt). The Silic’s biggest obstacle was flour, which stuck like it would stick to any other shirt. But again, it rinsed off.

The result: Pass. Once again, thinner liquids were no issue. Oil and grease, typically leather to an article of clothing, posed no problem, either.

The Kid Test

My 17-month-old daughter, like most kids, is a walking stain. She typically eats dinner wearing only her diaper. Not on this night. Instead, I put her in the Silic, now a dress, and strapped her in her booster seat.

Chili was on the menu, and quickly, chili was on the shirt. As she often does, she emptied her bowl onto her tray, choosing hands over fork. At one point she wiped her face with the shirt. After dinner, the shirt was mess. Chili remnants were visible everywhere and the shirt looked any other shirt subjected to such abuse. I sprayed it off in the sink, and while the stains washed away, the shirt soaked through.

The result: Fail.

The problem with the kid test was that it introduced the element of gleefully smashing foods into the shirt. Maybe that’s not a scenario the designers planned for with a shirt that is only supposed to “repel water-based liquids and stains,” according to this FAQ. But it’s worth noting the tagline on the Silic website — “The shirt that cleans itself.” As I was rinsing and wiping the badly soiled garment, I couldn't help but feel like that was a bit of an oversell.

Still, when it came to stopping stains, the Silic shirt performed well. There was no sign the coffee — or Tapatio — had ever been there. Ultimately, there’s value in that. If it stops me from constantly demoting shirts from my “wear in public” rotation to the “just around the house” collection, then I’ll be a customer.