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How to Wash & Re-waterproof Waterproof Jackets, Rain Jackets, Pants & Gear


Waterproof gear is expensive. It’s a big investment to get a nice rain jacket or pair of pants, the sort of investment that makes you want to take as good of care as possible of your gear. But what’s the point of owning nice gear if you don’t use it? And no matter how careful you are, your waterproof coat is going to get dirty eventually. So how should you wash your waterproof jackets & gear? And if it starts to lose it’s waterproof coating, how can you waterproof a jacket or pants so that they repel rain as well as it did when it was new?

We’ve put together this guide to simplify caring for, washing, and rejuvenating your waterproof gear. It’s really not that hard to do, and with the right information, you can keep that coat or pair of rain pants working well for many years to come. These steps and processes are applicable to all types of waterproof gear, helping you wash everything from your rain jacket to your ski or snowboard pants and jacket.


How Does Waterproof Clothing Actually work?

Before we get into the specific steps for caring for your gear, it’s helpful to understand how the fabrics and coatings in your gear work together to make it waterproof. Understanding this system makes it easier to properly care for your gear. Some overview is below, but for more information you can check out our guide to outerwear construction, and our guide to waterproof & breathability ratings.

First of all, the word “waterproof” is a bit of a misnomer. It’s easy to make a purely waterproof jacket. Garbage bags are waterproof, and it’s not like you have to do anything special to keep them that way. The tricky part is making gear that’s not just waterproof, but also breathable.

There are a couple of technologies that make fabrics both waterproof and breathable. The most common one is Gore-Tex. Since so many brands use GORE-TEX, we’ve put together a special guide for how to wash GORE-TEX. Membranes like GORE-TEX work in conjunction with another technology called DWR. DWR stands for Durable Water Repellent, and it’s usually just a coating on the outside of your jacket that makes it water resistant. That means that water will bead up on the outside material, instead of soaking through. DWR doesn’t make a jacket waterproof, it just makes it easier for the membrane to do its job.

Any waterproof piece of outerwear will have some combination of a breathable/waterproof membrane with a DWR coating. Different brands have different names for their materials, but this guide will work for any of them. So why is all that information important? Your gear is using a two-part system to defend you from water: the DWR, and the membrane. When you wash and care for your gear, you want to address both parts of that system.

 

How to Wash Waterproof Jackets & Clothing

How to Wash Waterproof Jackets, Rain Jackets, Ski or Snowboard Jackets & Pants

  1. Check all the pockets.
  2. Leave all zippered pockets open in the washing machine and dryer.
  3. Make sure any velcro flaps are closed.
  4. Always wash technical outerwear on its own.
  5. Don't overload the machine - only run about half a load at a time.
  6. Never use laundry detergent, use a detergent designed for waterproof materials.
  7. Run your regular wash cycle with warm water.

When you buy any piece of waterproof gear, your first move should always be to read the tags. Every manufacturer will recommend specific processes to take care of their gear. That way if they’re using any proprietary materials or technologies, they can recommend procedures that won’t damage them. In the absence of specific instructions, follow the steps laid out here.

Before you put anything in your washing machine, check all the pockets. It’s bad enough having a marker or some food go through a normal load of laundry, it’s much worse when it’s an expensive piece of gear that gets ruined. Leave all zippered pockets open, but close the main front zipper, in the washing machine and dryer. Otherwise they can sometimes fill with water and make the gear hard to dry. Make sure any velcro flaps are closed so they can’t snag on anything in the washer.

Always wash technical outerwear on its own, never mix it with a random load of laundry. Oils from your other clothes can actually leave your jacket more dirty then before. And don’t overfill your washing machine. About half full is a good call. Use warm water on your regular setting.

The most important rule is to never use normal laundry detergent on waterproof gear. Laundry detergent is designed to break down grease and oils, and the DWR coating looks a lot like grease to detergents. So use a Nikwax detergent that’s specially designed for waterproof gear. It will be gentle on the DWR, and still clean the pores of the membrane.


What Detergent to Use for Washing Waterproof Jackets & Clothing

Choosing the right detergent is super important when washing waterproof jackets and clothing. As we mentioned above, make sure to make the right choice. Traditional liquid laundry detergents can damage the membrane, or strip the DWR entirely - leaving your rain jacket no longer. Normal powdered laundry detergents are preferable, but the safest option is to use a laundry detergent specifically made for washing waterproof clothing like rain jackets, and ski or snowboard jackets.

How to Dry Waterproof Jackets, Rain Jackets, Ski or Snowboard Jackets & Pants

  1. Dry at low to medium heat for half an hour
  2. Hang dry out of direct sun if still wet

Drying your waterproof gear is very simple, the key is to make sure not to get anything too hot - high heat can damage the fabric and membrane. Run your dryer on medium or low heat for about half an hour. If your jacket is still wet, hang dry it. Don’t hang dry in direct sun, it can overheat and fade your gear.


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How to Re-Waterproof Jackets, Rain Jackets, Ski or Snowboard Jackets & Pants

So, you’ve taken good care of your gear, washing it carefully and keeping it in good shape, but it’s just not as waterproof as it used to be. That happens to all waterproof gear, no matter how careful you are. After all, the DWR coating is just that, a coating, and eventually it wears off or wears out. Don’t worry though, it’s easy to rejuvenate.

If your clothing is just a little less waterproof than it used to be, first try to dry it. To re waterproof your jacket, run it through the dryer at medium heat for half an hour. The heat can rejuvenate the DWR and reactivate it, re waterproofing your jacket or gear. If that doesn’t work, and water still isn’t beading on your gear, you can re-coat it with DWR, as described below.

To do this, simply buy a bottle of wash-in or spray-on DWR, and run your jacket or pants through the washer using the DWR instead of detergent. Follow the directions on the label to figure out how much to use. Dry as usual.

You can also reinforce specific high-wear areas, like the thighs of pants and the shoulders of jackets with a spray DWR. Just make sure that it’s approved for use on breathable membranes. Some cheaper DWR’s will clog the membrane.