Non Absorbent Cotton T-Shirts

Here’s some incredibly helpful insider info about why some t-shirts absorb less sweat than others.


I am new to your site, and I appreciate the opportunity to ask a question.

I have been buying and wearing LL Bean, 100% cotton, pocket t-shirts for a few decades.

They [the new ones] are no longer absorbent, and I hate wearing them. (Their durability is still excellent)

Can you recommend a replacement for this unfortunate change?


Rules to wearing undershirts

Thank you,


Why Some Cotton T-Shirts Absorb Less Sweat Than Others

heya larry,

good to hear from you buddy and thanks for your question!

i’m not too familiar with ll bean’s 100% cotton pocket t-shirts, but if they are 100% cotton and not very absorbent, i think i know what might be going on.

Beading water on cotton fabric — possible sign it’s been treated with a silicone softener at the fabric mill.

here’s a test: take one of the t-shirts, and dribble some water on the outside or inside layer. does the water bead, or absorb into the fabric??

if you find that the water beads, it’s likely because ll bean manufacturers the fabric and finishes the shirts or fabric with a silicone-type treatment.

when you add silicone, it makes the fabric softer. the drawback to adding silicone is that puts a water resisting layer on the fabric, so the shirt won’t absorb as much water/sweat.

the good news is that the silicone treatment is not usually permanent and will wash out after several washes & dries.

if you’re looking for some good t-shirt brands, you should take a look at this list:

i can’t tell you which brand doesn’t use silicone in their shirts, but you if you do a little experimenting, i think you’ll be able to find something you love (:

hope the above information helps you out. keep me posted on your search.

would love to hear what you try and which one you like the best.

Making Fabrics Soft

Although not fully related to what other fabric treatments may make standard t-shirts less absorbent, I decided to reach out to my trusted fabric adviser from China to ask him some more details about how knitting mills are trying to make fabrics softer.

tug-in-jeans-8a.pnghiya q,

other than using long staple cotton, brushing/sueding, adding silicone, and enzyming, are there any other techniques being used to make cotton “softer”?

thanks for any help you could provide.


qHi Tug,

Good morning! long time no see. I am really miss you much.

Thanks for your message. actually what you mentioned below can make the cotton fabric more softer.

But normally we improve cotton fabric ( without peaching) hand feel by following way.

Yarn spin method + bio-polishing + silicone

But there is a problem in garment factory if adding too much silicone on the fabric. because it is easy caused curl for the cutting pieces. especially for the single knit fabric like single jersey.

so some garment factory will adding silicone or softener during garment washing .

By the way, there is another cotton fabric with very nice hand feel call ‘ liquid cotton’ which made in china.

the fabric should be treat with Ammonia liquid during pre-treatment in dyeing process.

since it need safety facilities and arrangements. so there is one or two factory can produce this product.

Best regards, Q

Do Your Cotton T-Shirts Repel Water?

Keep in mind, I’m referring to standard cotton t-shirts that have been treated with something to make them softer, and not ones specially designed with hydrophobic fabric.

Hydrophobic fabrics have gained some popularity in recent years due to their ability to resist stains from different types of liquids.

Me, I just don’t see hydrophobic clothing being all too practical in every day life, with exception to some specific use cases. They are more hype than anything else.

But, if your standard everyday 100% cotton t-shirt is repelling water, and not absorbing it, then you my friend have a t-shirt that has been treated with a silicone softener.

Hit me up with any questions in the comments sections below.


Sweat Proof Undershirts

4 thoughts on “Non Absorbent Cotton T-Shirts”

  1. I wounded what effect this has on my designs when printing or doing transfers… Hmmmm

    So if it’s repelling water I would assume the cotton has less breathing and will make us sweat more. I usually always look for cotton as it still seems to be the best fabric for me in the wonderful temp in FL.

    Good stuff again Tug, thank you

    • heya dk, good to hear from you buddy!

      the silicone additive primarily makes the fabric softer, and doesn’t affect the breathability of the fabric as far i’ve experienced.

      but, if you’re printing on the shirts, silicone can affect the printing process.

      i’m not exactly sure how printing on a silicone treated shirt would be different than one without silicone, but i’ve read a lot of stuff about the subject on the forums over the years.

      of course the silicone will wash out after a number of washes & dries, so if you’re laundering the shirts before printing on them, the silicone shouldn’t have as much affect after it’s diluted from laundering.

      i think the printing issue is similar to the water beading issue. if water can’t absorb into the fabric, then ink may have a little difficult absorbing into the fabric as well.

      it may also cause some bleeding too. i don’t know for sure, but it seems like it could.

  2. Heh, I remember discovering that shirts newly bought from the store “magically” repelled water… I thought it was pretty neat! But they definitely do suck to wear like that though.


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