It’s Independence Day in the US, and much of our staff is at work near a grill with ketchup and mustard handy instead of office supplies. Though now that we mention condiments, everyone’s favorite hotdog toppings did once crossover into Ars daily life. Back in 2013, a certain hydrophobic sealant called Ultra-Ever Dry swept through a niche portion of the Internet thanks to what seemed like a too-good-to-be-true demo video that went viral. Being the rigorous reviewers we are, Ars couldn’t sit this one out. So for today’s holiday, we’re resurfacing this hands-on look at Ultra Ever Dry—ketchup and mustard included. The piece originally ran on May 21, 2013; it appears unchanged below.
You’ve seen the video, right? An image of what looks like an azure-colored metal floor plate appears, backed by some “Streets Have No Name” guitar knock-off. A mysterious hand is getting ready to soak this thing with a squeeze bottle full of water, but the first squirt yields puzzling results. Water beads up and shoots off the surface, leaving the plate bone-dry. Then the title: “What is Ultra-Ever Dry?”
That sequence has played out nearly two million times through YouTube (it’s literally more popular than some official Justin Bieber offerings). The video is an endless cycle of items shrugging off water, mud, oil, dirt, paint, and other stickiness with eye-popping ease. Ultra-Ever Dry claims to be a “revolutionary super hydrophobic coating that repels water and refined oils using nanotechnology.” Clearly, either the company has made a pact with the devil and gained supernatural powers, or it’s got some awesomely talented materials people.
We were just as amazed as most of you were, and we knew we had to try this stuff out. Two hundred dollars and one expense report later, I had a box full of Ultra-Ever Dry cans sitting on the floor of my office, ready to be applied to things various and sundry.
We didn’t just want to get some Ultra-Ever Dry and tell you about it, though—we’d much rather show you. Our call for comments on what we should test it with yielded some excellent ideas. Armed with your feedback, a DSLR, and a cameraman (the ever-patient Steven Michael, who has helped me photograph several NASA pieces), we hit the hardware store for supplies and spent the weekend shooting video.
First: Reader discretion is advised
The Ultra-Ever Dry coatings in their liquid state are based on xylene (bottom coat) and acetone (top coat) and emit powerful amounts of fumes. Applying the coatings to anything inside a house or apartment is absolutely out of the question. Even outdoors, coming anywhere near the stuff requires nitrile gloves and a P100-rated respirator fitted with organic vapor filters.
Bottom line: if you’re planning on getting some Ultra-Ever Dry for yourself and applying it, please take the appropriate safety precautions. Many people had previously indicated that they’d love to spray this stuff all over their bathrooms. I sure as hell wouldn’t do that in my house.
Test One: Glass and toilet
We kick off our testing with a 10″×12″ cut sheet of plate glass, with the edges taped off for safety. Ultra-Ever Dry was applied to one side of the glass and left to dry overnight.
Ultra-Ever Dry is a two-part coating. There is a base coat that must be applied and left to dry for 20 to 30 minutes and a top coat which must then be applied and left to dry for another 30 minutes minimum. The Ultra-Ever Dry coating itself is not transparent; it leaves a whitish haze on things when applied (other colors are available if you’re ordering in sufficient quantity, though). The evenness of that haze—and ultimately the efficacy of the Ultra-Ever Dry coating—is dependent on the application process. For maximum effectiveness, the Ultra-Ever Dry must be applied in a tightly controlled, very thin, very even layer (a wet thickness of 76 to 127 microns for the bottom layer, according to the documentation).
The mottled, cloudy appearance of the glass shows the limitations of our application method. We used the trigger hand sprayers available from the Ultra-Ever Dry store, but we were unable to get anything approaching a uniform coating with them. In fairness to the Ultra-Ever Dry folks, they did tell me that the hand sprayers would be insufficient for anything other than very casual use and that I should use an air compressor and pneumatic sprayer with a fine tip size. Sadly, I couldn’t arrange access to this type of equipment in the testing time I had available.
If you’re going to apply Ultra-Ever Dry to anything transparent like a motorcycle helmet visor or car windscreen or glasses—well, don’t. But if you absolutely must, you should follow Ultra-Ever Dry’s recommendations and use an application method which will yield a very fine, very even coating. You still won’t really be able to see through it, though.
There were a lot of requests for me to spray the Ultra-Ever Dry on a toilet in my house. Ha ha ha no, we’re not doing that (nor are we putting it in my shower, or my bath tub, or anything else I actually have to touch).
However, our sacrificial toilet from the hardware store fared excellently when coated with the stuff. The difference between the treated and untreated portion of the bowl when pelted with water and poo wet potting soil is obvious. That being said, Ultra-Ever Dry is “air powered”—its ability to repel water and oil depends on being able to trap a thin layer of air. While Ultra-Ever Dry’s documentation shows that the coating when properly applied will remain water-repellant at a depth of one foot for “months,” you might need to periodically drain a toilet with Ultra-Ever Dry applied to the bowl (depending on the way water swirls around your toilet when you flush it) in order to let it “recharge.”
Also, I’m not sure I’d set my nether regions near the stuff, as exposure can cause skin irritation.
Test Two: The driveway
Water on concrete
Requests that we test Ultra-Ever Dry’s ability to repel snow on concrete were common, but that’s impossible in my location. I’m in southeast Houston, and snow is something we see once or twice a decade (in March when we did the testing, daily highs were peeking back up into the 80s).
However, you can see above what happens to a small patch of concrete driveway when water is applied to it: the water sluices off the treated section. Examination of the treated area over several minutes actually showed a wet patch creeping further and further down across the treated area, which is almost certainly due to my hand sprayer application of the coating. When properly and evenly applied, the stuff will happily seal your driveway or sidewalk away from water.
At the end of the video, filmed several hours later, something unexpected happens: large drops of water are shown sitting stationary on the treated section. The water doesn’t have enough mass to roll down the driveway, so it remains in place until it evaporates. This could potentially mean that a treated driveway after a rain storm might end up wetter than an untreated driveway, depending on how much rain has fallen and how steep the driveway is.
The other possible side effect of coating your driveway is contaminated run-off. The coating job I did resulted in no small amount of excess Ultra-Ever Dry being carried off by water or rubbed off by my fingers the first time each treated object was handled (you can see a thin film of Ultra-Ever Dry back in the first video in the water collecting at the bottom of the toilet, for example). Some amount of Ultra-Ever Dry will almost certainly be carried off of your treated driveway and into your yard and your storm sewer, and I don’t know what the potential consequences of that might be.
One week later
A week after filming this, I re-tested the treated section of the driveway and found that exhibited absolutely no superhydrophobic properties at all—it had reverted back to regular driveway. The Ultra-Ever Dry site does make mention that the product is somewhat susceptible to UV exposure, but my application method is more likely to blame than anything else. If you plan on applying Ultra-Ever Dry to your sidewalk or walkway, you must be meticulous with the application. Hand sprayers are simply not going to cut it.
Next up: a grab bag of requested test items!
Listing image by Steven Michael