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How to wash waterproof clothing

25 April 2023

Waterproof clothing is essential to every outdoor lover’s wardrobe and taking good care of them will make them last longer and keep their weather protection working properly. Here, we will guide you through how to wash your waterproof clothes step-by-step. 

But first, do you even need to wash it? 

Even if it’s possible, and sometimes even recommended, to wash your waterproof clothes you should still do it as seldom as possible. Spot cleaning them with a damp cloth or airing them out will go a long way to freshen them up. But there are some signs you should look for that will tell you it’s high time to wash your waterproof clothes: 

Muddy and visibly dirty clothes. When your gear is caked in mud or visibly dirty in several places, it’s time to wash it. Aside from just being dirty, the dirt and mud can affect the DWR coating and cause water to soak through the outer fabric faster, thus compromising the breathability of the garment. 

Your clothes are “wetting out”. A good sign you need to wash and either reactive or reapply the DWR treatment, is when water stops beading up on the surface of the garment an instead soak through the outer fabric. A wet outer fabric will not affect the waterproofness of the membrane, but it will affect the breathability which in turn will worsen your experience.  

Learn more: What is DWR? 


Washing waterproof clothing in the washing machine 

1. Prep 

Prepping the clothes before washing them will diminish the chance of damaging their DWR coating and the membrane. Go through all the pockets and remove loose items, close all zippers and Velcro straps, and turn the clothes inside out. This will minimize the abrasion on the clothes that can make the DWR coating wear off faster.

2. Wash 

When washing your waterproof clothes, it’s important to do it as gently as possible. This is true for both the wash program you choose and the detergent you use. 

Choosing detergent 

Choose a detergent that is pH neutral, somewhere between pH 6-8 is okay to use for waterproof clothing. Regular detergents are often more alkaline which will cause the DWR coating to deteriorate. Do not put the detergent into the washing machine together with the clothes. Instead, add it to the soap dispenser so it will be distributed at the right time in the washing cycle. Do not use more detergent than necessary, it will not make your clothes cleaner.  

Do not, under any circumstance, use fabric softener when washing waterproof clothing. The fabric softener will fill in the pores of the membrane and destroy the breathability permanently. 

Loading and setting up the washing machine 

Do not overfill the washing machine. Instead, wash your waterproof clothing separately and just a few at a time to eliminate the abrasion from other clothes during the washing cycle. Set the temperature to 30°C and use a gentle spin cycle. Remember to check the wash label in the clothes for the maximum water temperature they can handle. 

3. Dry 

The drying and reactivation of the DWR treatment is very important to the overall performance of your waterproof clothing.  

Hang dry 

When taking your clothes out of the washing machine, hang them up to dry so the excess water can drain. Outside, over a tub or in the shower is perfect. When the excess water has drained out, turn the clothes the right side out and let them dry completely.  

Reactivate the DWR with heat 

To reactivate the DWR treatment on the clothes, put them in the dryer on low for 20-30 minutes.  

Don’t have a dryer? You can also use an iron to reactivate the DWR. Set the iron to no steam and a warm setting, not hot. Put a thin towel between the iron and the clothing and iron it carefully. Do not put your iron directly onto the waterproof garment! 

Does your waterproof clothing leak through? 

As long as the waterproof membrane isn’t damaged, your waterproof clothes are still waterproof. However, it can feel like they leak through if the breathability is compromised.  

If you, after washing your waterproof clothing, feel like they are leaking through you might not have reactivated the DWR treatment well enough or you need to reapply it. You can test the DWR treatment by spraying your clothes with water from a spray bottle. If the water beads up on the fabric, the DWR treatment is good. If the fabric becomes dark and the water spreads out like a stain on the fabric, the DWR treatment needs to be reactivated or reapplied.  

All waterproof garments are made from materials that has been treated with DWR during the manufacturing process. But over time and with heavy use, this will wear off and you need to retreat you clothes to keep their water-repellency and breathability performing as expected. 

Learn how to reapply DWR to your waterproof clothing.