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How to Wash and Waterproof a Rain Jacket

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Notice how the rain beads up and rolls off of this Mountain Hardware Victorio jacket - when your jacket ceases to do this, it is time to treat it.

Notice how the rain beads up and rolls off of this Mountain Hardware Victorio jacket - when your jacket ceases to do this, it is time to treat it.

Washing a Rain Jacket

If you're getting wet in your favorite rain jacket, it may be time to re-waterproof it.

Wait for a second, didn't the jacket tag say, "GUARANTEED WATERPROOF FOR LIFE?"

Ahh yes, but that is only when you have cleaned and retreated your rain shell properly. Much like any piece of technical equipment, it will take care of you when you take care of it.

Modern hardshell garments for backpacking, mountaineering, and hiking are manufactured from a variety of materials like Gore-tex, eVent, DryQ., Precip, Conduit, Hyvent, Torrentshell and the whole host of waterproof breathables. Despite the disparity in names and technology, they all exist for one purpose: to make you more comfortable in the outdoors.

Anyone who has ever hiked in PVC rainwear, like the type with little duckies your Mom made you wear, knows that it will keep you dry - on the outside. However, the sweat you're producing makes you soaked from the inside. When W.L. Gore invented Gore-tex in the Seventies, it changed the way everyone thought about raingear. A selectively permeable membrane kept the raindrops out, while letting sweat escape.

Since then, scores of hard shells with proprietary technology have flooded the market with hopes of keeping backpackers and hikers dry. Some work better than Gore-tex, many perform much worse; the care, however, is generally the same for washing and waterproofing.

So don't throw that rain jacket away until you've tried the following techniques for cleaning and conditioning your coat.

Technical shells from Mountain Hardware, Marmot, and Sierra Designs.

Technical shells from Mountain Hardware, Marmot, and Sierra Designs.

What is Wetting Out?

Though wetting out is something you did on the Easter Bunny's lap one year, it also refers to the breakdown of the waterproof-breathable membrane. The outer layer of hardshell jackets is treated with a DWR (Durable Water Repellent) to shed droplets of rain and snow.

Over time this treatment wears off the garment, rain ceases to bead adequately on the jacket and the horrid process of wetting out begins. When a shell garment wets out, the outer shell becomes saturated, hence hampering the waterproofness and breathability of the jacket.

Cleaning products from Nikwax and ReviveX.

Cleaning products from Nikwax and ReviveX.

How to Clean Your Rain Jacket

There are two reasons to clean your rain jacket.

  • Your camp mates insist on hiking downwind of you.
  • Your jacket isn't as waterproof or breathable as it should be.

Though building a patina on your jacket may be seen as a badge of honor, you are allowed and encouraged to wash it as often as needed. As with most modern materials, high-tech waterproof breathable garments only perform well when they are clean.

Often just cleaning your rain jacket properly will restore not only the breathability but the water-resistance as well.

Always follow your jacket manufacturer's washing recommendations; however, the following instructions are true for most garments.

Cleaning with ReviveX Synthetic Fabric Cleaner:

  • Wash, preferably in a front loading washer on a delicate cycle with warm water.
  • Close all tabs and zippers.
  • Apply ReviveX to soiled areas.
  • Add ReviveX to washer, load items, and wash.

Cleaning with Nikwax Tech Wash:

  • Shake the bottle well before using.
  • Place a maximum of 6 garments in the machine.
  • After the machine is filled, add 3 full caps for 1-3 garments and 5 caps for 4-6 garments.
  • Set cycle to heavy and warm.

Alternatives to Specialty Soaps:

Though specialty soaps like those from Nikwax or McNett are the best way to clean your technical rain jacket, there are alternatives in case you get in a pinch.

Look for a soap that is free of surfactants, perfumes, enzymes, or fabric softeners.

Some people have had great success using a white vinegar and water solution in lieu of soap for a solid cleaning.

ReviveX spray-on waterproofing.

ReviveX spray-on waterproofing.

Rewaterproof the Jacket

If your jacket has been wetting out continuously, despite a proper cleaning, it is surely time to retreat the DWR.

After cleaning the jacket with a good non-residue soap, it is time to recondition the membrane that maintains the weather-resistant DWR layer.

From the Outdoor Gear Experts at Sierra Trading Post:

"Unfortunately, you can't fix a waterproof membrane if your jacket starts to leak after several years. However, the durable water repellent (DWR) finishes on all waterproof gear will fail long before the membrane wears out. You will notice the deterioration of the DWR coating when your garment appears to be absorbing moisture rather than repelling it."

Apply most re-waterproofing agents while the garments are still wet. There are two options: wash-in and topical treatments.

How to Use ReviveX Spray-on Water Repellent:

  • Machine wash with a technical wash.
  • Shake bottle well and spray garment while it is still wet.
  • Apply liberally to shoulders and cuffs.
  • Tumble dry on medium heat for a full 60 minutes. Do not air dry.

How to Use Nikwax TX.Direct Wash-in Waterproofing:

  • Place a clean item in the washing machine.
  • Add Nikwax wash-in waterproofing into the machine soap dispenser.
  • Wash on a regular cycle.
  • Dry on a low setting.

How to Dry a Rain Jacket

Why can't I just let it drip dry?

Well, actually there are a few garments like Sierra Designs windwear which recommends drip-drying but most prefer tumble drying in a clothes dryer. In many cases, drying the garment will reactivate the DWR.

For some materials, ironing a waterproof jacket on low heat will also reset the DWR.

Always read the care labels on your rain jackets - this one is from a Mountain Hardware DryQ. Elite jacket.

Always read the care labels on your rain jackets - this one is from a Mountain Hardware DryQ. Elite jacket.

Beading water is a beautiful thing.  Here a Mountain Hardware cohesion jacket is resisting the rain easily.

Beading water is a beautiful thing. Here a Mountain Hardware cohesion jacket is resisting the rain easily.

Sample Washing Instructions for North Face, Marmot, and Mountain Hardware Rainwear

Whether you are cleaning Hyvent from The North Face or Torrentshell from Patagonia, your washing instructions may differ. The following lists the instructions for washing and reconditioning my personal rainwear garments.

  • Machine wash cold gentle.
  • Wash separately, do not bleach.
  • Tumble dry low.
  • Do not use fabric softener, do not dry clean.
  • Marmot Minimalist Jacket: Gore-Tex
  • Machine wash warm separately.
  • Rinse thoroughly.
  • Tumble dry warm.
  • Do not use bleach or fabric softener
  • Marmot Precip Jacket: Precip
  • Machine wash warm with powdered detergent.
  • Close all fasteners and tumble dry warm.
  • Do not use fabric softeners or bleach.
  • Do not dry clean or iron.
  • Mountain Hardware Stretch Cohesion Jacket: Conduit DT
  • Machine wash cold on gentle, separately.
  • Tumble dry low, remove promptly.
  • Do not bleach, do not use fabric softener, do not dry clean.
  • Columbia Titanium Jacket: Omni-Tech
  • Machine wash cold.
  • Tumble dry low.
  • Do not dry clean or bleach.
  • Sierra Designs Microlight Jacket:
  • Machine wash cold on gentle cycle with like colors.
  • Use mild soap not detergent.
  • Hang dry away from direct heat.
  • Do not bleach, do not dry clean.
  • Hand or machine wash separately on a delicate cycle in warm water.
  • Zip up all zippers while washing.
  • Tumble dry on a low heat, do not iron or dry clean.

But I Have a Softshell, How Do I Waterproof That?

How to Wash and Waterproof a Softshell Jacket

If you are a softshell convert, check out this article on how to wash and waterproof a softshell jacket. Though the process is similar to reconditions a hardshell rain jacket, there are a few differences.

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: How long should I wait to wear a rain jacket after putting it in the dryer?

Answer: Once the jacket is dry, you can wear it. Ideally, you should be able to take it right out of the dryer and wear it.

© 2012 Dan Human


Juan Velazquez on September 10, 2014:

Hello I saw your guide and you say that to use Tech Wash should put a capful garment. Now I wonder if TX DIRECT WASH IN to the same extent a capful used by garment thanks

hello on August 26, 2014:

hey how are you ...

Suhail Zubaid aka Clark Kent from Mississauga, ON on July 22, 2014:

I am using Ascend™ Water Shield 2.0 Jacket and it hasn't shown any sign of re-proofing. But now I have an idea how to do it in case it needs through the courtesy of this article.

Thanks for sharing, Dan.

Dan Human (author) from Niagara Falls, NY on July 02, 2014:

Hiking in New Zealand, that sounds awesome jessyk. Someday I'll make it there.

Exactly, I'm a proponent of buying the best gear you can find, however even well-made rain jackets demand special care.

Thanks for reading!

Jessy Katz from Boston on July 02, 2014:

Thanks for the tips! i am about to go hiking in New Zealand so this article helped me a lot!

rain jackets are pretty expensive and you probably saved all of us lots of money.

i will definitely try everything written in here and definitely keep reading your articles , so thanks a lot and keep up the good work!

Dan Human (author) from Niagara Falls, NY on February 18, 2014:

Nikwax is rather wonderful stuff is it not? I love breathing life into an old garment that was ready for the Salvation Army pile. Thanks for the comment Marsha.

marshacanada from Vancouver BC on February 17, 2014:

Thanks for this very helpful hub. I have used Nickwax and washed my jackets, but benefited from your excellent descriptions.

Dan Human (author) from Niagara Falls, NY on August 01, 2013:

I know that Nikwax and I'm pretty sure Revivex are sufacant-free soaps and not actual detergents. Therefore they don't break down the DWR while removing dirt. You can pick these treatment up at your local sporting goods store or of course online.

Have fun hiking in the rain nichellewebster! Thanks for the comment.

Nichelle Webster from Silicon Valley on August 01, 2013:

Interesting and well written. It makes me want to go hiking in the rain. One question: how can you find a soap without surfactants?

Dan Human (author) from Niagara Falls, NY on July 31, 2013:

Though I love buying new gear (well I love having it, not exactly buying it) I love being able to prolong the life of hiking equipment. This is especially true with that perfect jacket that you absolutely love. Rewaterproofing is usually a quick and easy fix.

Thanks brenda!

brenda12lynette from Utah on July 30, 2013:

What great tips!! It's good to know those expensive rain jackets I have can experience a nice long life!!

Dan Human (author) from Niagara Falls, NY on March 19, 2013:

You are quite welcome summerberrie! My best wishes toward dry days ahead under your jacket; thanks for stopping by. OBD

summerberrie on March 18, 2013:

This is so very useful. I have a few jackets I need to get started on. Thanks for the information.

Dan Human (author) from Niagara Falls, NY on March 01, 2013:

Hey Alison, no problem. I would follow Mountain Hardwear's suggestion of washing the jacket on cold/delicate. I've used Nikwax with some of my garments using the cold/delicate cycle with great success. I've also compromised and washed on "warm," but achieved similar results. Thanks for reading!

Alison Turner on March 01, 2013:

Thank you so much for the information. I am noticing, however, that the directions for care on my jacket (Mountain Hardware) differ from the directions on the Nikwax. The jacket says to use cold/delicate for washing, and the Nikwax directions say to wash on warm/heavy. Whioh directions do I follow? Thanks for the help.

Dan Human (author) from Niagara Falls, NY on May 07, 2012:

Glad it worked for you TrahnTheMan!

TrahnTheMan from Asia, Oceania & between on May 07, 2012:

Thanks Dan- I discovered that hub just after I posted my question here! Thanks- it's also really informative.

Dan Human (author) from Niagara Falls, NY on May 02, 2012:

Hi TrahnTheMan, I still love Gore-tex and it performs admirably, but I would surely check out Mountain Hardwear's Dry.Q fabric. I wrote about this new waterproof breathable in my hub reviewing the Mountain Hardware Victorio Jacket.

I think this fabric is just as waterproof and even more breathable then Gore-tex.

Thanks for reading!

TrahnTheMan from Asia, Oceania & between on May 02, 2012:

Great hub Dan- thanks. Do you know if Gore Tex is still considered to be the 'best' waterproof/breathable fabric? What fabric would you recommend?

Dan Human (author) from Niagara Falls, NY on April 26, 2012:

A sturdy rain shell is a great investment for anyone, but especially for us outdoor-type folks. I'm glad you enjoyed. Thanks for reading Karen!

karen on April 26, 2012:

Thanks for the great info! I invested in a great rain shell last year, and it has been the best purchase i've made. Nothing can stop me from outdoors fun time!

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

It seems like a lot of work,but I generally wash my jackets at the same time and make a day of gear maintenance. It's cheaper than buying new gear and here in the North East- you need a couple of shell jackets.

Thanks for reading watergeek!

Susette Horspool from Pasadena CA on April 17, 2012:

It seems like so much work to do this. It's probably a good thing I live in Southern California where it doesn't rain much. Informative hub. Thanks.

Dan Human (author) from Niagara Falls, NY on April 09, 2012:

Though sometimes something we love is beyond repair, you can get a lot of life out of a quality jacket. Thanks for stopping by irvinetraveller, I'm glad this Hub was of some use to you.

irvinetraveller from California on April 09, 2012:

Outbound Dan, I have a nice rain jacket, two actually, that I worry about when the time comes that they begin to deteriorate. Thanks to your article, I now know what to do to save them. I am saving this Hub forever.

Dan Human (author) from Niagara Falls, NY on April 09, 2012:

I allowed my hard shells to drip dry for years before reading that I should tumble dry them. I've been surprised how quickly a tumble in the drier will fix a leak.

You are quite welcome Simone and thanks for the comment!

Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on April 09, 2012:

I had no idea that these jackets could be re-waterproofed. What a useful guide! Heck, I'm just glad you're getting me to think more about proper care of my one nice rain jacket- I didn't even know that most brands encourage tumble dry. Thanks for the advice!

Dan Human (author) from Niagara Falls, NY on April 09, 2012:

Sometimes on a rainy hiking day, I become entranced watching the water bead off my jacket like the droplets on a rain-exed windshield. Thanks for stopping by jenubouka!

jenubouka on April 09, 2012:

Its like Rain-ex for your clothes, that is sweet. Didn't even consider to rain-proof a jacket. Awesome information!