Unstainable White Shirt from Elizabeth & Clarke uses nanotechnology to repel water- or oil-based spills.

An “Unstainable” White Shirt That Repels Wine, Coffee, Salad Dressing, and More

An “Unstainable” White Shirt That Repels Wine, Coffee, Salad Dressing, and More

The Eye
Slate’s design blog.
May 11 2015 12:44 PM

This “Unstainable” White Shirt Repels Wine, Coffee, and More

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The Unstainable White Shirt from Elizabeth & Clarke uses nanotechnology to repel water and oil-based stains like coffee.

Courtesy of Elizabeth & Clarke

Putting on a clean white shirt is a tiny act of faith. But the pristine beauty of this classic wardrobe staple is no longer as fragile a proposition thanks to a line of “unstainable” white shirts from Elizabeth & Clarke, an online purveyor of affordable white shirts for women. Currently crowdfunding on Kickstarter, the shirts have already brought in more than $162,000 of the $30,000 goal.

According to a project description, the Unstainable Shirt uses nanotechnology to repel “virtually any water-based or oil-based liquid spill, including perspiration, which evaporates before even touching the fabric.”

Shirt fabric fibers are treated at the molecular level with a microscopic garment finish that prevents water or oil-based liquids from penetrating in the same way that “a flower repels the morning dew,” the company says. It claims that the finish is “100,000 times smaller than a grain of sand,” keeping the Crepe de Chine or modal/cotton fabric breathable and soft. The company says that the PFOA-free finish “has been tested using AATCC standards and includes raw materials that can be derived from renewable, farm-grown sources.”

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An “unstainable” dress shirt.

Courtesy of Elizabeth & Clarke

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While stain-repellent technology isn’t new, it has yet to become commonplace. Any woman who has ever marred a favorite white shirt with wine, coffee, mustard, or salad dressing might want to check out the two-minute mark of this otherwise tedious and badly acted project video for a demonstration:

In the video, the wine seems to bounce off the surface of the shirt, requiring quick reflexes to prevent the flying nectar of the gods from staining pants, skirts, rugs, or other less high-tech fabrics in the vicinity (unless you happen to be wearing a pair of white “stay spotless” pants from Joe’s Jeans).

The shirts’ superpowers do not extend toward silicone or acrylic-based stains, including lipstick.

“Most makeup is silicone-based and typically include[s] a multitude of different chemicals and dyes, depending on the brand and formulation, which simply cannot be completely repelled by any type of hydrophobic repellency treatment,” Elizabeth & Clarke founder Melanie Moore told me in an email.

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The company names its shirts after famous women named Elizabeth. Here, the unstainable Liz Lemon T-shirt.

Courtesy of Elizabeth & Clarke

She added that the way that makeup is transferred onto a blouse is different than the way in which you might spill another liquid like wine. “In the case of makeup,” Moore said, “it rubs off a woman’s face and neck and onto her blouse, breaking the treatment barrier, and reaching the fabric fibers. Whereas in the case of wine, it would typically be spilled onto the fabric and then wick away, never crossing the treatment barrier on top of the fabric. We are currently working to solve this, but it is very difficult problem and will most likely require a completely different approach.”

Moore says that makeup should wash out in the laundry, but the shirts themselves aren’t completely maintenance-free. While the shirts are machine-washable and dryer-safe, the finish is incompatible with fabric softener or bleach. And although this means you can skip the dry cleaner, the company points out that ironing helps the shirt’s stain-repelling powers. Perhaps the never-ending quest for the perfect white shirt doesn’t end here, but servers required to wear white shirts as part of their uniforms, sloppy eaters, and the accident-prone may want to check out the Kickstarter campaign, which wraps up May 21.

Kristin Hohenadel's writing on design has appeared in publications including the New York Times, Fast Company, Vogue, Elle Decor, Lonny, and Apartment Therapy.