How to Wash and Waterproof a Rain Jacket
If you're getting wet in your favorite rain jacket, it may be time to rewaterproof it.
Wait 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 hard shell 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 of 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.
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 hard shell jackets are 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 wet out begins. When a shell garment wets out, the outer shell becomes saturated, hence hampering the waterproofness and breathability of the jacket.
Wash Your Garments Easily with Tech Wash
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 manufacture'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 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 bottle well before using.
- Place 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 alternative 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.
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 rewaterproofing 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.
Wash and Waterproof in One
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 a low heat, will also reset the DWR.
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.
- Mountain Hardware Victorio Jacket: DryQ Elite
- 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.
- The North Face Verto Summit Series Jacket
- 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.
What product do you use for cleaning and rewaterproofing your hard shells?
But I Have a Softshell, How Do I Waterproof That?
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 hard shell 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
How long should I wait to wear a rain jacket after putting it in the dryer?
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.