Gear Guides: Washing Your Waterproof Jacket

Most of us rely on a good shell jacket when we are out and about, whether it’s pushing through the drizzle for marathon training, getting caught in a surprise downpour on in the mountains, or just surviving the commute in any weather. Over time, your waterproof will become dirty: dirt and grease will work in to the tiny holes in the jacket membrane, which will affect the performance of the garment. Caring for your waterproof products properly will ensure you get the most comfort, performance and enjoyment out of your clothing.

When is it time to wash my waterproof?

There are simple signs that your Gore-Tex or waterproof jacket is ready for a wash to keep it in peak condition:

  • You notice it ‘wetting out’: when water soaks into the face fabric instead of rolling straight off this may be a sign that the DWR (durable water repellant, the membrane that stops water getting into the fabric) needs a bit of a refresh.
  • Sweat, dirt and marks on the jacket: all of these things can block the tiny holes on the jacket’s membrane, affecting the breathability and waterproof properties.

Bear in mind if you use your jacket for lots of high-tempo activities like running, cycling or ski-touring, it may need more frequent washing than if you use it infrequently or for more gentle activities.

Any example of the structure of a waterproof fabric with the eVent membrane.

Simple steps to wash your waterproof jacket

  • For best result, use specific cleaning products, like Grangers or Nikwax. Do not use any bleach of fabric softener.
  • To start, make sure your main zips are closed as well as any pit zips (you can leave pockets open), loosen any elastic and wrist closures.
  • Wash all waterproofs in a regular washing machine at 30 or 40 degrees – using a ‘double rinse’ function can make sure you have properly removed any excess residue from the jacket.
  • If needed, re-apply a layer of DWR either using a specific product – some products should be sprayed on after cleaning, others can be washed in.
  • Check the care label before tumble drying – many types of DWR benefit from gentle machine drying to activate the coating.
  • Note: if your waterproof jacket is insulated or contains down, check our Gear Guide for how to wash and dry down to maintain its performance.
This great video from Arc’teryx gives you a useful summary of how to wash your jacket.

Jargon Buster

Some of the key terms used in this tutorial can require a bit more explanation if you’re not familiar with them.

Membrane: a layer of material in the jacket fabric with tiny holes that allow water vapour (from sweat) out but stop rain getting in. These are often sandwiched between other layers of fabric to protect them, and are the key to keeping your jacket breathable and waterproof.

Face Fabric: the outer layer of fabric that often acts as the main barrier to the elements.

DWR: the Durable Water Repellent is a coating that is applied to the face fabric to help it block and shed precipitation. Over time these coatings wear off, especially in high-wear areas like on the shoulders where backpack straps will rub, but it’s very easy to re-treat the fabric.

Gore-Tex: a leading brand of waterproof membrane that is often used for high performance fabrics.