- Detailed assessment of hydrochar wetting properties, which could provide an essential understanding of underlying mechanisms during its application to soils, is lacking. We characterized hydrochar produced from hydrothermal carbonization (HTC) performed on poultry litter at various temperatures and for different times in terms of hydrophobicity and surface free energy properties. Hydrochar was more hydrophobic than untreated poultry litter, and its hydrophobicity increased with increasing HTC temperature (contact angle > 130°). These changes were correlated with degradation of hemicellulose and cellulose. Hydrochar produced at 250°C contained mostly lignin and displayed high hydrophobicity over both prolonged wetting periods and repeated wetting cycles. Surface free energy was calculated using the Owens–Wendt–Rabel–Kaelble and Wu models, with the latter resulting in lower standard errors. The surface free energy decreased as HTC treatment severity increased from 26 mJ/m2 in the poultry litter to 8 mJ/m2 after treatment at 250°C for 60 min. The dispersive component fraction of the surface free energy increased with increasing treatment severity. This study demonstrated that changes in the physical composition of hydrochar due to increased treatment severity increase its hydrophobicity and decrease its surface free energy. Moreover, due to non-persistent hydrophobicity, hydrochar produced at temperatures lower than 250°C will likely not show adverse effects on soils.