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how to wash waterproof jackets

Whether you’ve got a summer jacket that’s caked in dirt, or a snow jacket that’s starting to smell, throwing it in the washing machine can be a great way to give it a new lease on life! But wait, doesn’t ‘washing’ a waterproof jacket damage it somehow? I heard that you can destroy the waterproofing, and I don’t want that! No, of course not. And bunging it in on a high temperature spin cycle with a full load of washing will probably do that. But there is a way to wash your waterproof gear safely, without damaging it. And then it’ll be smelling and looking fresh for your next adventure. But, before we get into the guide, we’ve put together a quick FAQ to help you out.

how to wash a waterproof jacket

Washing waterproofs: frequently asked questions

Why do people say washing waterproofs hurts the waterproofing?

Waterproof fabrics are made up of laminated or bonded layers, and then usually treated with a water-repellent substance. The outer layer is usually polyester or nylon, and the under-layer is a polymerised waterproof membrane. Washing on an intense cycle or a warm wash, or using certain types of detergents or products will damage the membrane, and may also remove or degrade the water repellent finish on the outside of the fabric. So yes, sometimes, if done incorrectly, washing can hurt the waterproofing of an item.

What is this ‘membrane’ made of and how does it work?

Most waterproof membranes are made from PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene) or TPU (Tetra Polyurethane). PTFE is heated, and then stretched quickly to form a microporous film, where the pores are 50 times smaller than the smallest water droplets, so water cannot pass through. But, when in its vaporised form, it can. That means that sweat exuded from the skin as steam can get out, but water can’t get in. In TPU membranes, a solid barrier is formed, which prevents water from passing through, but the material is also able to absorb water vapour molecules and let them out via diffusion. This is known as breathability (steam is let out) and waterproofing (water isn’t let in). 

detergent

What is the water repellent coating?

A Durable Water Repellent, or DWR, coating, is a substance which coats the fabric of many waterproof garments. These can either be made from PFC compounds like PTFE, or from more eco-friendly, fluorocarbon-free substances derived from bio-based processes. Ridestore uses a PFC-Free DWR coating on all its products as it is more sustainable and environmentally friendly.

This coating works because it has what’s known as a low friction coefficient. In simple terms, it means that it’s super smooth, so there’s nothing for water to hold onto. This coating, which is invisible to the eye, prevents water from gripping the fabric and having time to soak in, keeping you drier for longer.

So washing waterproofs is safe?

Yes, it is. Modern waterproof garments are designed to be used with a washing machine, and most washing machines have options to suit waterproof garments. By using the appropriate settings on your washing machine and following the instructions on the washing label, you can ensure your garments are protected from damage.

Do I need special detergent?

We definitely recommend it. For the best and safest results, use a detergent specifically designed for use with waterproof garments, like Nikwax Tech Wash. A lot of standard detergents will break down the DWR coating and damage the waterproof membrane, so don’t use them! Similarly, fabric softeners, bleaches, and other washing products will also harm it. So if you’re looking to keep your jacket or pants in fighting shape, grab a detergent specifically designed for waterproof clothing.

How to wash waterproofs

And snowboard or ski jackets or pants

How To Wash Waterproof, Snowboard, and Ski Jackets/Pants
Step 1: Prep Your Items

Before washing your waterproofs, there are a few quick steps that’ll help ensure you get the best wash possible. First, turn out and empty all of the pockets on your waterproof or ski/snowboard jacket or pants. This is important. Next, we need to turn the garments inside out. As the quickest way to wash off a DWR coating is through abrasion, we want to make this impossible during the wash!

Once your jacket is inside out, you want to make sure any zips are closed. That means front zippers, collar zippers, hems, and flies. Pockets can stay open as they should be attached to the liner, and leaving them open will allow any debris or dirt inside to be cleaned out, too!

Step 2: Fill The Machine (But Actually, Don’t Fill It)

We always recommend washing waterproof items either separately, or together. So if it’s two waterproof jackets, that’s fine. A waterproof jacket and waterproof pants, not a problem. But don’t throw your waterproofs in with a normal wash is what we mean!

Step 3: Set The Machine

If your machine has a setting for waterproof clothing, use it! If not, it may have a delicates, silks, synthetics, or wool setting, which is often good, too, and won’t be too intense. Just make sure the temperature isn’t higher than 40 degrees and there’s no fast spin cycle included.

The safest method is to set the settings manually. Start with a short cycle (like a delicates, synthetics, silk, or wool cycle) — washing one item doesn’t require hours in the machine! Around 30 minutes is usually plenty but your machine will know best. Then, turn the temperature down to 20 or 30 degrees celsius — you can check the washing label on your specific item for the maximum recommended temperature. Bring the spin down to 200 or even turn it off completely if you’d prefer. Add your waterproof-safe detergent. Then close the machine and start the cycle!

Step 4: Hang To Dry

If your jacket is free of suds, go ahead and remove it from the machine. If you see some lingering, don’t worry, this is normal if you didn’t spin or used a low spin cycle! In this case, set the machine to do a rinse cycle, bring spin down to low or turn it off again, lower the temperature, and start it without adding any detergent. After that, it should be really clean.

When you pull your jacket out, it’s going to be sopping wet. So grab a bucket or tray of some kind and set it in front of your machine. If you don’t have one, hold it over the sink for a minute or two until the drips slow. You can also gently squeeze the item to encourage the water to drain more quickly. But don’t wring it out or screw it up!

After the drips slow, find somewhere to hang it to dry, while still inside out. Outside is best and usually means you don’t have to deal with all the water that will come out of it, too! But inside works just as well, though you may have to keep that bucket underneath.

Now, don’t be tempted to put a hangar inside and use that right away as the jacket may be quite heavy with water still. The best way to hang it up is using the hang loop on the collar until all the excess water drains out. If this isn’t possible, laying it over a rail or even on a flat, clean surface is a good alternative.

Once it’s gone from soaked to damp, you can transfer to a hangar now and leave it to dry fully. If you’re inside, by an open window or door will allow the flow of air to dry it more freely. Outside is the quickest (so long as it’s not raining!).

Once the lining is dry, you can turn the jacket the right way in and allow the outside to dry now, too. Though, a word of caution. If it’s outside, don’t allow the jacket to dry in direct sunlight! Keep it in the shade if possible.

Step 5: Check and Refresh the DWR

Once dry, you can do a quick check on your DWR treatment. If you have a spray bottle, that’ll work really well. Spray a thin mist of cold water onto the jacket, and see if it beads on the surface and runs off, or sinks in. If you don’t have a spray bottle, get some water on your hand and flick some drops onto the material.

You want to see the water beading on the surface and running off. If it does this, your DWR treatment is intact! If it begins to sink in, then it’s time for a refresh. Just toss the jacket in the tumble dryer on its own, and run it on a medium heat for around 20-30 minutes. This should reactivate and refresh the existing DWR treatment, making it ready to ride like new.

Just repeat the mist/flick test and see the difference! The water should bead as expected. But if not, then it means that your DWR has had it’s day, and it’s time to re-apply. If this is the case, don’t worry, it’s perfectly normal!

Step 6: Re-Applying DWR And Storage

If your jacket or pants have been well-used, there’s a good chance that over the course of your riding, some of the DWR will likely have been worn away. If it has, then this is the perfect time to re-apply the DWR coating. We have a dedicated article on doing just this, which explains everything you need to know about DWR and how to renew it at this stage.

Or if your DWR is fine (or you just re-applied it successfully) then the next step is to store your jacket for your next trip. Simply hang in a suit-hangar if you can for maximum protection, or just inside your wardrobe if you don’t have one. Or if you need to store it somewhere more compact, fold loosely and lay in a box where possible. Try not to stack anything heavy directly on top just as you don’t want anything rubbing the shell when it doesn’t need to be!

Step 7: Wait For Your Next Adventure

They can never come soon enough, am I right?