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How to Wash and Waterproof a Softshell Jacket

Dan Human shares what he has learned from several thousand miles of backpacking, hiking and paddling.

Three softshell jackets from Arc'Teryx, The North Face, and Marmot getting ready for a Nikwax cleaning and waterproofing treatment.

Three softshell jackets from Arc'Teryx, The North Face, and Marmot getting ready for a Nikwax cleaning and waterproofing treatment.

Restore Breathability and Performance by Washing your Jacket

When camping mates begin to wrinkle their noses as you walk by, you know it is time to wash your favorite softshell jacket. Sure that grime tells the story of your adventures, but did you know that like hardshells, softshells work best when they are clean. But if you use any old detergent off the shelf, you are likely to ruin the breathability and water repellency of the garment.

It doesn't matter how many hundreds of dollars you spend on a softshell, if you don't care for it properly your technical garment will make an excellent seat cover for your car.

This article provides general guidelines to clean and restore a waterproof finish to your softshell jacket.

How to Clean a Softshell

Though softshells can easily be hand-washed, throwing them in the washing machine won't hurt them as long as you follow the care instructions. People ask when a softshell should be washed, and unfortunately, there is no good answer. Generally, I'll wash my shells in the washing machine after every long trip; my jackets go on several day hikes and local jaunts before venturing into the laundry basket.

General Softshell Machine Washing Instructions:

  1. Empty out all pockets—you would be surprised how many batteries and candy wrappers are in there.
  2. Close all hook and loop (AKA velcro) fasteners and pockets.
  3. Set washing machine to normal cycle (usually) and use warm water.
  4. Add a sport-wash detergent - SEE MORE ON THIS BELOW
  5. Allow machine to cycle through and completely rinse
  6. Remove the garment from washing machine and dry on low in dryer until the jacket is dry to the touch. Often drying the garment will restore the DWR (durable water repellent finish)

Technical Detergents

When washing softshells or any kind of technical apparel, it is critical to use the correct laundry detergent. My favorite product for cleaning softshells and all technical apparel is Nikwax Techwash. Techwash is very easy to use, just add two to three cap fulls of detergent to the washing machine. Often after washing a raincoat with Techwash and throwing it in the dryer, the water repellency, as well as the breathability, will be restored.

If you can't find a detergent specifically used for waterproof breathable garments, try an organic type of detergent. Make sure it states on the package that it doesn't leave any residue and completely rinses.

Waterproofing softshell jackets with Nikwax Softshell Proof .

Waterproofing softshell jackets with Nikwax Softshell Proof .

Waterproof the Softshell

So, you've properly cleaned your softshell, dried it on low, and it still isn't as waterproof as it use to be. It looks as if the DWR has worn off. Most DWRs, especially on softshells are hydrophobic fabric treatments that resist fabric saturation and they do wear off over time. Whenever your softshell begins to wet out, it is time for a treatment.

To retreat your garment's DWR and restore that weather-resistant finish, you have two options: either wash in or spray on.

First, before using any sort of waterproofing agent, ensure that the garment has been cleaned properly with some sort of tech detergent.

Again, though many companies like McNett / Revivex and Grangers produce softshell treatments, Nikwax Softshell Proof is easy to use and very effective.

Directions for a wash-in application using Nikwax Softshell Proof

  1. Place garments in washing machine and fill with warm water
  2. Add entire 10 oz. bottle of Nikwax Softshell Proof
  3. Run machine to warm, heavy, and low water level
  4. Air dry or tumble dry on low

Directions for a spray-on application using Nikwax spray-on Softshell Proof

  1. Hang clean garment, preferably outside
  2. Hold bottle about 6 inches from the fabric and spray evenly
  3. Wait two minutes and remove any excess drips
  4. Hang to let dry

I use a combination of wash-in and spray-on applications for my technical garments. I usually re-proof them once a year or so with a wash-in. However, if I start to detect leakage at seams or along the shoulder area (where I usually get wetness) I will spray the affected area.

Have a Hard Shell?

If you have a hard-shell rain jacket check out my other guide at How to Wash and Waterproof a Rain Jacket: Restoring the DWR.

How to Clean Marmot, North Face and Arc'Teryx Jackets

Of the softshells I use, few differ in their laundering and care instructions. Below, I have listed verbatim the care instructions for each of these softshell garments.

  • Arc'Teryx Venta SV Jacket
  1. Machine wash in warm water or dry clean
  2. Do not use fabric softener
  3. Tumble dry on low heat
  4. Do not iron
  • Marmot Sharpoint Jacket
  1. Close all fasteners
  2. Machine wash warm
  3. Powdered detergent
  4. No fabric softeners
  5. Do not iron, bleach, or dry clean
  6. Tumble dry low.
  • EMS ENDO Jacket
  1. Machine wash warm
  2. Tumble dry low
  3. Do not bleach
  4. Do not use fabric softeners
  5. Do not dry clean
  6. Cool iron if needed
  • The North Face Summit Series Windstopper Jacket
  1. Do not dry clean
  2. Hand or machine wash separately on delicate cycle in warm water
  3. Use mild detergent
  4. Rinse well
  5. Do not bleach
  6. Tumble dry at low heat
  7. Secure all hook and loop closures
  • Marmot Approach Vest
  1. Machine wash warm
  2. Wash with like colors
  3. Powdered detergent no fabric softeners
  4. Do not iron, bleach, or dry clean
  5. Tumble dry low
  6. Close all fasteners

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: What if I don't have a dryer? Will letting the soft shell jacket dry by normal airing work?

Answer: Most manufacturers recommend a dryer to heat up the garment and reactivate the DWR after cleaning. I however, have cleaned and reproofed a softshell without throwing it in the dryer. I honestly thought the waterproofing still took hold.

Question: Can I use Dasco protector on a softshell coat?

Answer: The only Dasco protector I've seen has been formulated for leather and suede, so I wouldn't try it to waterproof a softshell jacket.


Dan Human (author) from Niagara Falls, NY on September 05, 2017:

Oh, now that sounds like a pretty stinky problem. I've always had good luck with vinegar and warm water for odors but you may also want to look into a product called MiraZyme from McNett. I've had that product neutralize some pretty smelly vapors. After eliminating the odor however, I'd probably retreat the jacket's DWR.

Joey-Sk8-cree8 on September 05, 2017:

Hello, I am hoping you have some suggestions on washing an Arc'Teryx softshell..... I misplaced it at a friends place for a couple weeks and when i found it, the cats he has managed to pee on it several times. Unsure of how to treat this problem. it smells like a litter box. i'm attempting leaving it in a bucket with warm water and vinegar today. so far the smell hasn't changed too much and i've had it soaking for about 40 minutes so far. should i keep doing warm water and vinegar? can i hurt the DWR by repeated warm water treatments?

Dan Human (author) from Niagara Falls, NY on November 06, 2014:

I have noticed a slight trace of residue left in the washing machine after using a wash-in treatment, however this does quickly go away. When I do a double rinse cycle, I never detect it. It isn't like RIT dye or anything.

Many folks choose to run the washing machine through a cycle with a bit of regular detergent after using a technical wash. Of course, the other option to be safe is just to use a friend's washing machine or a laundromat. Thanks for reading Alli!

Alli on November 06, 2014:

Is it okay to do the waterproofing in the wash--won't the solution stay in there and taint whatever you wash next in the machine? I'm deciding if I should handwash my rain shell (it's just a one layer rain jacket by North Face) or put it in the washing machine. Any opinions on if residue stays in the machine?

Dan Human (author) from Niagara Falls, NY on April 01, 2014:


The folks at REI may be able to give you some item specifics, but this is what I'd do. I spilled some gasoline on a pair or performance pants a couple of years ago. First I soaked them in warm water and about a cup of baking soda for a good couple of hours. I've also heard of people using ammonia. Then I washed separately two times with Nikwax techwash, by then I could smell zero gas fumes. However, I still didn't dry them until I sweated through them a few times and had a good couple of days of natural soaking. I probably waited a few weeks before washing again, rewaterproofing and then drying them in the clothes dryer.

Good luck!

Christina on April 01, 2014:

My coat was sprayed with diesel on a job site and I am having trouble figuring out how to wash it without ruining the surface. I also saw something that said you shouldn't put it in the dryer if you can still smell the fuel, but this is a problem because that helps with the waterproofing. Any ideas or suggestions on how I can save my coat and get rid of the smell? Its an REI 3 in 1 coat that is part of their REI elements.

Dan Human (author) from Niagara Falls, NY on January 22, 2014:

Good point SomeoneHere, though front load washers are desirable the one pictured (mine) is a top loader. Someday when I'm washing my shells at the laundromat with the front loader, I'll have to remember to take another picture. That said, my top loader hasn't ripped my shells apart yet.

In a top loader a 10 ounce bottle treats up to 3 garments. I've divided up to bottle when only washing once, but I tend to wash my shells together. With front loaders, being more efficient, they take less of the softshell proof - usually only a couple cap fulls per garment. Of course, when I am paying $5 to use the front loader, I usually load up on the washing too.

Thanks for the comment!

SomeoneHere on January 21, 2014:

There might be confusion to some readers out there. It's always better to use a front loading washer I agree however, showing a picture of a top loading washer while the person is just dumping in the Nikwax can and may confuse some people.

Also, you don't have to pour the whole 10oz bottle to clean your gear unless you're planning on cleaning a lot at once.

Dan Human (author) from Niagara Falls, NY on March 04, 2012:

Thanks and yes white vinegar is a great low cost way to enhance soap residue removal. Vinegar has great uses besides adding to your french fries. Thanks for stopping by and commenting! on March 03, 2012:

if you are looking to make sure all soap scum is removed, add white vinegar to your rinse water - will not hurt any fabric

Dan Human (author) from Niagara Falls, NY on January 18, 2012:

John, If you have a military gore-tex type jacket (hard shell) you can restore the waterproofness pretty easily. Wash with a technical wash first, then dry on low heat. If you have never waterproofed it before use something like Nikwax TX.Direct Wash In. Often those treatments add new life to old jackets.

Thanks for reading!

John J Gulley from Wisconsin on January 18, 2012:

Although I don't have any technical garments, I do have a military style raincoat that I use quite often. I've found that spraying it after washing imparts somewhat of a waterproof quality but it's not perfect. I'm glad you discussed other waterproofing products as the Scotch Guard protectant just isn't cutting it.

Dan Human (author) from Niagara Falls, NY on January 17, 2012:

No problem on the link CF- it's a well written review.

I kind of play it by ear when my softshells needs to be re-waterproofed. Usually it is after getting really soaked in a winter sleet storm or after the second time it totally wets out.

But usually, I re-proof them about once per year in the beginning of the winter mountaineering season.

Liam Hallam from Nottingham UK on January 17, 2012:

Great article Dan as alway's will cast my eyes over this when I need to wash my Bionnassay Softshell next and no doubtedly I'll need to re-waterproof my jacket at some point in the future.

How often do you recommend re-waterproofing or would you say to simply do it once it starts to wet out?

Thanks for the link too- much appreciated CF