If you’ve ever been caught in a backcountry downpour, you know how important it is to have high-quality rain gear functioning at its full potential. Being cold and wet in the wilderness is not only extremely uncomfortable, it's also incredibly dangerous.
After extended use with your rain gear, you’ll notice that water no longer beads up like it used to. In fact, you’ll start to notice water soaking into the fabric and you may even think it’s time for a new jacket. This is called “wetting out,” and it’s a major indicator it’s time to wash and retreat your rain gear.
Luckily, caring for rain gear is a simple task. We put together this quick guide to help you get your rain gear function like new again. For more of our guides and recommendations on our favorite jackets, tents, sleeping bags, backpacks, and a whole lot more, check out the CleverHiker Backpacking Gear Guide.
How Rain Gear Works
To keep it simple, most rain gear is usually made of three bonded layers: the inner laminate, the middle “waterproof/breathable” membrane, and an outer layer called the face fabric.
LAMINATE (INNER) - The inner layer provides comfort against your skin and protects the middle membrane from sweat and grime.
WATERPROOF/BREATHABLE MEMBRANE (MIDDLE) - The waterproof and breathable middle layer is composed of microscopic pores which allow water vapor (sweat and condensation) to get out, but preventing any liquid water (rain) from getting in. To be honest, the term "waterproof and breathable" is a stretch, but it's the best technology we currently have.
FACE FABRIC (OUTER) - The outer fabric layer is usually made of polyester or nylon and treated with Durable Water Repellent (DWR). The DWR chemical bond is what causes water to bead up and run off your coat. Every new coat comes with a strong factory sealing of DWR, which is when your coat will perform its best.
WEARING DOWN - Over time, sweat, grime, and particles from the air wear down the DWR chemical bond on the outside of your jacket. Eventually the DWR will be rendered totally useless and your jacket will fully “wet out.” The main problem with wetting out is that the middle layer of your raincoat can't breathe when the outer layer is soaked through. When moisture can't escape, you'll end up getting soaked from the inside out, due to condensation and sweat.
How Often Should I Wash?
The moment you realize your rain gear is "wetting out” you need to wash and treat it. By washing your shells with Tech Wash and reapplying DWR, your jacket and pants will be as close to new as possible. The more you use your rain gear, especially in harsh conditions, the more often you’ll need to wash it.
Truth be told, most backpackers and hikers don’t wash their rain gear nearly enough, if ever. This leads to wetting out and hikers may even buy new rain gear because they think their old shells are worn out. But don't worry, your jacket hasn’t reached the end of its life, it just needs some love. How often you wash your rain gear will vary, but here are some general rules:
- If you wear your rain gear casually, then wash your coat once a month or after 20-30 normal uses.
- If you wear your rain gear during exerting activities, such as hiking or jogging, it’s good to wash your rain gear after 10-15 uses. Sweat and other contaminants build up much quicker under these circumstances.
- As soon as you notice your rain gear is "wetting out,” give it a full wash.
Wash-In or Spray-On DWR?
There are two ways you can reapply DWR to your rain gear: wash-in DWR such as Nikwax TX.Direct Wash-In or a spray-on DWR such as Nikwax TX.Direct Spray-On. We use the wash-in treatment for rain shells and pants because it's easy and effective. If you're washing a multi-layer garment, such as a fleece or down-lined rain jacket, the spray-on treatment should be used.
Directly below we give instructions on how to wash your rain gear using a wash-in DWR, which is the most common procedure people will use. For those washing fleece or down-lined gear, you'll be using a spray-on DWR, which we cover later in the post.
How to Wash Your Rain Gear
By the time most people get around to washing their rain gear, they'll not only need to clean their jacket, but also reapply DWR. If your rain gear is still repelling water and is not yet wetting out, you may only need to wash your rain gear with Tech Wash. If this is the case, you can follow steps 1-5 below and then tumble dry on low. For most people, you'll want want to reapply DWR as part of the full washing cycle listed below.
1. Check the manufacturer’s washing instructions on the tag. Though the instructions are most likely similar to the steps below, make sure you follow the garment’s instructions first and foremost.
2. Clean any residual laundry detergent from the laundry machine soap dispenser. Standard detergent can break down the waterproofing elements on your rain gear.
3. Pour in the recommended dosage of Tech Wash. Never use powder detergent, bleach or fabric softener, which can damage the membrane of your gear.
4. Zip up your rain shell and make sure there are no objects in the pockets. Then load it into the machine.
5. Wash on the gentle (or delicate) cycle. If it appears that the soap isn’t completely rinsed out after the cycle, you may want to run the rinse cycle again without tech wash.
6. Next, you'll reapply DWR to your jacket. Pour the recommended dosage of your Wash-In DWR into the laundry machine soap dispenser, set the recommended temperature (usually low-warm), and run your rain gear through the gentle cycle. If you're using Spray-On DWR, see instructions below in the Insulated Rain Gear section.
7. When the cycle is complete, you can either air dry or tumble dry on low setting, if the care label on your jacket allows.
8. Finally, be sure to only store your rain gear once it’s completely dry. If not, mildew and mold can build up in the creases of your rain gear.
Washing Down/Fleece Insulated Rain Gear
If you have a rain jacket that has down or fleece insulation, the process to wash and reapply DWR is a little different. The first thing you always want to do is read the instruction label on the rain gear, as this should dictate the process.
FLEECE-LINED RAIN GEAR: You'll need two products for this: Tech Wash and Spray-On DWR. First, wash your rain gear using a Tech Wash. There's no need to dry garments before applying DWR. Find a flat surface and lay a protective barrier such as cardboard down so you don't harm the surface. Lay your rain gear flat and close up all zippers. Holding the bottle 6 inches away, spray the garment evenly on outside fabric, ensuring that no areas are missed. Wait two minutes and then dab way any residual product with a damp cloth. Air dry or tumble dry on low setting, if the care label allows.
DOWN-LINED RAIN GEAR: You'll need two products for this: Down Wash and Spray-On DWR or Down Proof (read below). First, wash your gear with the down wash according to the directions. If you need more clarification, check our our article on How to Wash a Down Coat. Next, you need to reapply the DWR. There's no need to dry garments before applying DWR. For spray-on DWR, find a flat surface and lay a protective barrier such as cardboard down so you don't harm your surface. Lay your rain gear flat and close up all the zippers. Hold the bottle 6 inches away, and spray the garment evenly on the outside fabric, ensuring that no areas are missed. Wait two minutes and then dab way any residual product with a damp cloth. Air dry or tumble dry on low setting, if the care label allows. We recommend tumble drying when possible because down garments take a very long time to dry.
DOWN PROOF: For added protection, you also have the option of using Down Proof after your completed wash cycle with Down Wash. Rather than using the spray-on DWR, the Down Proof will ensure that not only will the shell get a reapplication of DWR, but also the feathers inside your jacket. For our high quality down garments, we normally use spray-on DWR.
We hope this guide helps you get your rain gear clean and revitalized. As always, please leave a comment below if you have any recommendations, questions, or suggestions. And if you found this guide helpful, please share or click the little heart button below to give us a digital high five!
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