In the Hollywood movie, Shanghai Knights (pardon me for the non scientific citation), Jackie Chan states that 'wet cloth' does not break easily.

How true a fact is this ? We know from common experience that paper when wet tends to tear easily. Then what is the difference in the breaking stress of wet paper vs wet cloth. What is happening here at the molecular level? Does wetness induce structural strain due to cohesive forces which tend to degrade the fiber strength of paper whereas reinforce that of the cloth?

Thanks. (I will be happy to edit out the movie reference, in case it violates any SE clause, I merely wanted to bring some context into the question)

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    $\begingroup$ Nothing stops you (or any of the other people who have asked this question on the internet, before) to do some experiments. I haven't seen any hard evidence it's hard to say anything about the question. Oops! Turns out... somebody has: textileinsight.blogspot.com/2014/11/…. You can believe it... or do your own tests. :-) $\endgroup$
    – CuriousOne
    Commented May 11, 2016 at 6:58
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    $\begingroup$ There is nothing wrong with the context if it doesn't take away from the question, especially if it makes the question all the more interesting. ;) $\endgroup$
    – Neil
    Commented May 11, 2016 at 7:52

1 Answer 1


From what I've learnt, this relative strengthening,of cloth when wet, and weakening of paper is due to two factors. First up:The cloth - google fibre structures of cloth, and you will notice that cloth fibers are uniformly but relatively less interlocked, and addition of water causes further attraction via hydrogen bonding. For the paper, it has relatively more interlocked fiber structure, but when water is added to it, water molecules tend to displace some interlocked fibers. Even though hydrogen bonding takes place, but in the case of water, the loss of initial bonds is much too much, to overcome through hydrogen bonding. Hence it becomes relatively weak in terms of its structural strength.


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