Breathable waterproof fabrics such as Gore Tex, eVent and Gelanots are highly technical and can be expensive. So it is not surprising that there are numerous products on the market that claim to protect and prolong the life of waterproof clothing. Is it necessary to use these fabric care products or will my waterproofs be ok as long as I simply look after them?
In this post we’re going to look at how best to care for breathable waterproof fabric by categorising garment care into three areas. They are storage, cleaning and re-proofing.
Before looking at these areas of fabric care, a brief sortie into the science of breathable waterproof fabrics is needed to answer the question of why do my jacket and over-trousers need so much TLC?
Why look after Breathable Waterproof Fabric?
If breathable waterproof fabrics are not looked after you will see a reduction in the performance life span of your clothing. To keep your waterproof jacket and trousers in tip top shape there are two main areas to look out for. They are protecting the durable water resistant outer layer and keeping your clothing clean.
Breathable waterproof fabrics (Gore-Tex, eVent and Gelanots) are made up of a number of layers, for simplicity we only need to look at two. These being
- Waterproof membrane
- Durable water resistant (DWR) layer.
The waterproof membrane is exactly this, a membrane that does not allow water to pass from the clothing to the skin, whilst allowing your sweat to pass out into the atmosphere.
DWR waterproofing provides water repellency by making water bead on the outside of the fabric, thus stopping water soaking into the outer layers. Without the DWR layer your clothes will still be “waterproof” and you will not get wet from external water. But by repelling water, the DWR layer allows all the layers to breath. If layers cannot breath the heat and perspiration from movement is trapped inside the clothing and turns into condensation. This makes you feel wet and probably very uncomfortable. This is why it is important to use fabric care products such as re-proofing and re-conditioning agents.
Dirt is the other major enemy of water proof fabrics, heavy or prolonged soiling clogs up the fabric, thus reducing breathability and increasing moisture that is trapped inside, a secondary effect of dirt it the abrasion is causes on DWR layer, this is why it is essential to keep your waterproof clothes as clean as possible.
Most people seem to store smaller waterproofs in a stuff sack or in their rucksack and so long as it is a dry clean environment then this is fine, in an ideal world putting your waterproof clothing away properly is best. Coats and jackets need to be hung in clean dry place, a clothes hanger which distributes the garments weight more evenly is advised.
Keeping waterproofed products clean is vital because dirt impedes the beading of water and breathability. Always make sure that your clean your jacket or trousers when you have finished using them. Simply shake any dust particles off and if needed clean small amounts of dirt off with a damp cloth or, if it is dried in dirt clean with a soft brush. All cleaning will degrade the DWR a little as cleaning is abrasive, but this reduction in water repellency is less than if you leave the item dirty.
Like all clothing, waterproof products have to be washed from time to time especially after heavy soiling. Using the manufactures washing and drying instructions is best. (As in the unlikely event you product is faulty you can not be blamed for its failure.) But for those of us who don’t read instructions, never use Non-Biological washing products as they will strip off the DWR layers. If you don’t use the recommended washing brand (normally Nikwax or Grangers) use biological soap flakes with no perfume, detergent or softeners.
Detergent free treatments such as Nikwax Tech Wash are designed to protect waterproof fabrics especially DWR layers whilst removing dirt and contamination, and then if needed to apply a reproofing agent such as Nikwax TX Direct Wash which will then re-protect the DWR layer.
It is a common misnomer for people to think that we re-proof breathable fabrics (Gore Tex, eVent & Gelanots) because an item is no longer waterproof. Technically this isn’t correct. If, for example, you never reproof your clothing, the item should still be waterproof, it just will not work so effectively.
The six million dollar question is, how often do you need reproof your items? The answer is very simple. It’s entirely up to you! Not a very helpful answer is it? The problem is that your DWR layer will degrade at differing rates depending upon how dirty you get and how much you use your clothing etc. It is also worth noting the UV from the sun will degrade your DWR finish. A simple rule of thumb is that when water starts to stop beading off your clothing properly then this is the time to reproof.
You don’t need to reproof every time you wash your clothing, but it may be a good idea if preparing for a holiday, multi-day walk etc. then you reproof to make sure that your clothing performs well.
Re-proofer generally comes in a spray or liquid to be washed in. The spray although quicker will not provide as good a coverage due to the fallibility of the human eye (you may miss bits!) Therefore at CheapTents.com we recommend using liquid (wash-in) re-proofer which soaks into the item of clothing and will cover all surfaces with an even finish.
Breathable Waterproof Fabric Care – Summary
So there you have it, the best way to look after your waterproof clothes and get a lot of use out of them is to:
- Store them properly
- Keep them clean
- Re-proof when needed
Storing breathable waterproofs correctly helps to reduce wear and keep items clean and dry. Cleaning is vital as it removes dirt and debris from clothing and allows the item to breathe. Re-proofing recreates your garments outer DWR layer to restore water repellent qualities and protect breathabilty.