First, it's important to have an understanding of how waterproof, breathable RAINWEAR fabrics work before you can properly care for them. These jackets are made of materials that allow tiny water vapors to pass through, but not large water droplets. These tiny pores make up the breathable membrane that keeps sweat from condensing inside your jacket.
As this material protects you from the rain, a finish known as “durable water repellent (DWR)” protects the fabric itself from moisture, creating another barrier between you and precipitation. This finish helps the water bead up quickly, forcing it to roll off the jacket, rather than slowly soak into the fabric.
However, after heavy use of your jacket, this DWR coating will slowly begin to wear off, leaving the fabric exposed not only to water, but also several impurities like skin oil, sweat, and dirt. Once these seep into the membrane, the great benefits of these jackets quickly fade away. Not only will your gear be stinky, you'll find it no longer keeps you as dry as it once did.
If you find that your jacket becomes heavy when exposed to rain, or your skin feels a bit clammy under the fabric, there's a good chance the DWR coating has worn off, or it has "wet-out." This doesn't mean, however, that your jacket has reached the end of its life. It can be fixed by taking a two-pronged approach: washing and re-waterproofing treatment.
Before you can re-treat your rain jacket, you'll need to wash off the impurities that have collected on the membrane; otherwise you'll just be locking them in for good. The first thing you always need to do is check the washing instructions on the garment's tag. While care will most likely be similar for all waterproof, breathable fabrics, it’s important to follow exactly what these instructions say. You'll want to avoid using a standard detergent; instead, use Nikwax Tech Wash, which is outstanding for stripping waterproof, breathable fabrics of dirt and oil without ruining the material. To use Tech Wash, toss your jacket into the machine and add the product; then use a cold-water wash on a gentle cycle, which will keep the interior of your jacket from abrading.
After the wash, rinse the jacket thoroughly with water to ensure that no Tech Wash residue is left behind, then tumble dry the garment on low heat. If you've got the time, you can also just wash it by hand with Tech Wash, rinse, then hang to dry.
Now that all the impurities have been washed away, you're ready to revive your jacket's DWR. You can either apply it to a clean jacket in a spray form, or, even more simply, put the product into the wash with the jacket. Try using NICKWAX TX.Direct by adding it to a clean load of laundry and sending it through another wash cycle. Once you throw it into the dryer, the low or medium heat setting will revive the water-repellent finish.
Just like with any article of clothing, washing too frequently will negatively affect the quality of the material. In your jacket's case, overwashing will cause its waterproofness and breathability to fade away. Rather than washing your jacket with every load of laundry, throw it in only after several rigorous uses. The DWR coating will last through several washes, so don't worry about reviving that every time.
A good rain jacket is one of the most essential items in your outdoor gear pack. After choosing one best suited for you, be sure to maintain it properly using these tips to stay dry and comfortable on any outdoor excursion, no matter what the weather has in store.
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