If you’re anything like me, your rain gear smells. And I don’t mean it has an odor, or that it’s fairly pungent. I’m talking about that 45 day old, blood, sweat and mud smell that your raingear gets after a good long trip. It’s the kind of smell that isn’t obvious, and it’s not identifiable, but it just creeps into the back of your nose and lingers… and lingers… and lingers… and soon enough you’re the guy sitting in the airport all by himself because your raingear has managed to clear the room. Now, while everyone loves a good odor, its important to keep your waterproof clothing clean not only to save the people surrounding you, but to ensure optimal performance while in use. Here’s a quick breakdown of how best to wash your waterproof clothing.
How Waterproofing Works:
Generally, waterproof clothing is constructed in one of two ways. The garments are either made with an actual membrane based waterproofing (fabric you can touch, hold and manipulate), or the garment has a polyurethane based coating that is applied to the inside of the jacket/pants. Membrane based garments involve using a piece of waterproof fabric in combination with non-waterproof fabrics to provide a highly durable, long lasting waterproof material. Polyurethane coated jackets work by using a hydrophobic/hydrophilic polyurethane treatment and applying it to the inside of a nylon based jacket to give both breathability and waterproof protection. Both methods of waterproofing involve a porous exterior fabric that allows vapor and air molecules from the inside of the jacket to escape. Overtime, however, as these pores become clogged, breathability will be hindered and the jacket will be unable to perform up to standard. Cleaning your jacket will help clean and prevent these pores from becoming blocked by dirt, sweat, or rain.
Cleaning Your Waterproof Clothing
Washing waterproof clothing is easy, but requires special detergent and a front loading or non agitated washing machine. If you can get your hands on a bottle of Nikwax Tech Wash, that’s what I prefer to use. It’s pretty easy to find and works on just about every piece of outdoor clothing I have. Using these special detergents is important because they won’t clog the pores of your garments with leftover soap residue. Standard detergents like Tide or Cheer often leave behind a mild soap residue that can build up on the fibers of the fabrics and hinder breathability. Follow the directions on the bottle for washing your specific garments, but be sure to use a front loading or non-agitator wash machine. The agitator (that big tower looking thing that sits in the middle of most top loading washers) twists and turns inside while your garments are being washed and sometimes your jackets or pants can get snagged and be torn by the rotation.
Drying your garment can be done a couple of different ways, so be sure to check the tags on your specific piece of gear about drying instructions. You never want to use HIGH heat on your garments. Most waterproof jackets are made of a heat sensitive material that could melt or be damaged by high heat, so if you’re going to use a dryer, be sure to use it on normal or low heat. Before you dry your piece, give a good shake or two to get rid of any excess water. This will help cut down on the amount of time that the garment needs to spend in the drier. While some heat is good, you want to be sure not the over expose it if you don’t have too. Run the dryer for a normal cycle, or until the garment is dry to the touch.
Treating Waterproof Clothing – D.W.R.
I’m sure you’ve probably heard the term “DWR” a time or two in your outdoor career. DWR is a coating that is applied to the outside of the jacket to prevent it from “wetting out.” When it rains on a brand new jacket, the water should bead up and fall off. After time, however, the water will appear to soak into the fabric. This is called “wetting out.” Wetting out occurs when water soaks into the shell (outermost) layer of fabric and clogs the pores. This happens because the DWR has worn off and needs to be reapplied. There are many forms of DWR applicant. Be sure to use a spray on, as opposed to a wash in, and don’t be afraid to treat your jacket as often as needed. The more use your shell sees, the more often it will need to be treated.
To treat you jacket, wash it first. Once it’s washed and dries to the touch, hang your garment on a stand and spray the DWR applicant evenly over the entire surface. Let it air dry for a few minutes and wipe off any buildup of excess DWR. Double check to make sure you’ve evenly sprayed the surface and put your garment back into the drier. The heat from the drier will help to activate the DWR coating and will ensure top performance.
Please remember that all outdoor gear is different, and washing instructions may vary. This is a very general instruction, if you have any additional questions feel free to check out the manufacturer’s site, as they often have more detailed instructions for their respective products.