Thursday, December 30, 2010

Cleaning Outdoor Clothes

Now that it's winter, I'm wearing base layers, soft-shells, and hard-shells to keep warm while hiking, skiing, and winter mountaineering.

Recently, while hiking in a wintry mix of snow, sleet, and rain, I noticed that my 5 year old Gore-tex jacket was wetting out - the water was not beading off the surface.

Admittedly, the manufacturer of my shells recommends washing them after every 10 to 12 days of hard use or every 20 to 30 days of light use.   They also recommend applying durable water repellent (DWR) treatment when water stops beading off the fabric. Since I've climbed every peak in New England in winter conditions over the past 5 years, it was definitely time to wash them for the first time (I know, that sounds disgusting).   I'd never washed Gore-tex hard-shells or Power Shield soft-shells, so I had to do some research.

Here's what I found.

To prepare the garment for washing, close the main zippers and pit zips, open pocket zippers, and release tension on all elastic draw cords.   You should follow the washing instructions on the garment label, which are likely to  be cryptic international symbols.   Here's a "Laundry Rosetta Stone" that tells you everything you need to know.

In my case, my Arcteryx Alpha SV Jacket instructions told me to wash the garment on a medium heat setting (40°C).   Arcteryx recommended a free-rinsing soap or non-detergent cleaning agent to wash Gore-tex. The washing product should be free of surfactants and detergents, fabric softeners, enzymes, perfumes, or whiteners since these chemicals tend to be hydrophilic (attract water) and can reduce the effectiveness of the durable water repellent (DWR) treatment on your garment. Specifically they recommended Granger's Performance Wash.  If you only have access to normal laundry soaps simply rinse the garment with a second rinse cycle in order to completely remove any residual cleaning chemicals.

Once the jacket was clean, I needed to reapply the durable water repellent treatment.  DWR is a polymer substance applied to the face-fabric of a Gore-tex garment.  Arcteryx recommended Granger's XT Proofer spray because the technologies complement the garment's original DWR treatment.  They do not recommend using a wash-in DWR treatment.

After washing, I closed all zippers, hung the wet garment on a hanger and sprayed Granger's XT Proofer evenly onto the wet face fabric of the garment. Next, I placed the garment in a tumble drier on a medium heat setting (40°C) for 40 minutes (Yes you can tumble dry Gore-tex garments safely).   The heat maximizes the effectiveness of the DWR treatment.

After washing, DWR treating, and drying, my Gore-tex jacket looked and worked like the day I purchased it.   The process was so successful that I repeated it with all my soft-shells and wind shells.

Now that I'm a Gore-tex cleaning expert, I'll wash my outdoor gear a bit more often.   Once in five years is definitely not recommended!


ericfine50 said...

Excellent review. McNett Corp makes a great DWR product as well.


John@Chilmark said...

Thanks John, I have an older Gore-tex jacket that definitely needs this kind of treatment. Unfortunately for me, only realized that it was no longer fully waterproof up backpacking in the Elk Mtn range of Colorado last summer during a cold rain. Not pleasant.