With outdoor recreation and adventurous lifestyles reaching new heights of popularity, the amount of gear we need in order to keep up continues to increase. Not only can the gear be expensive, but sometimes, confusing to care for. Can you wash DWR-coated jackets? What’s the best cleaning method for wool?
There’s a pervasive belief that you don’t have to wash adventure gear, or shouldn’t, but if you follow the correct instructions, occasional washing can keep gear lasting longer and performing better.
It might feel counterintuitive to wash your GORE-TEX or throw your down jacket in the laundry, but it is ok and in fact good for your gear, just as long as you do it the right way. Here are the steps for getting your favorite pieces clean and lasting longer.
When should you wash your GORE-TEX?
You should wash your GORE-TEX (or other waterproof garments) when there is any build up of sweat, body oils, dirt or even campfire residue.
How to wash your GORE-TEX is actually really simple. First, prepare your jacket. Zip up the front zipper and any pit zips. Loosen all elastics and velcros, and open the pockets (and make sure to check inside them). Now you are ready to wash. You will want to use a gentle wash like Nikwax’s Tech Wash. If you don’t have a gentle wash, regular detergent is fine, you’ll just need to make sure you rinse your garment at least twice.
Throw the garment in the washing machine, and make sure the settings are on cold or warm. Use a regular cycle, just not heavy duty.
Next, you will have to decide if you need to apply DWR (Durable Water Repellant) spray. If the jacket has not been beading water and has been “wetting out” on you, you should spray DWR on. Nikwax has excellent choices for various fabrics and materials. Hang the garment and spray an even coat. You should spray more on the areas that get more wear, like shoulders where pack straps cause abrasion.
After deciding whether or not to spray, place the garment in the dyer on a regular temperature setting until dry. The length of time will depend on your dryer. Make sure it is dry to the touch when you pull it out.
Down can be a bit trickier. We asked Devon de Balasi Brown, head of Global After-Sales Operations for Arc’teryx, for advice.
“Inspect your down. Look out for ‘clump down’, which often happens when down doesn't get dried out properly after use or when it hasn't been washed in a while,” de Balasi Brown tells us. “Keep an eye out for ‘down migration’. Similar to how the down in the comforter on your bed tends to collect in the bottom and sides, the down can pile up in your jacket too. Sometimes this can be solved by ‘fluffing’ up the garment to redistribute the down. If that's not working, washing and drying will bring it back to life,” de Balasi Brown says.
“If you are dealing with a heavy sweat or body oils as well, which often happens near the chin and neck, or if you are dealing with a stain, use soap and a brush before you wash, to see if you can lift that. If you do, that make sure to rinse that area throughly,” says de Balasi Brown. “You only want to wash your down products as necessary because it is such a time consuming process. You should still wash them every so often, even if there aren’t any obvious signs.”
de Balasi Brown tells us that even down products that aren’t being used a ton can be washed every six months to a year. Using a down specific detergent is best, but like GORE-TEX, regular detergent can be used; just make sure to rinse it well because the enzymes in regular detergent can affect the down.
Next, zip up pit zips and arm zips - but also loosen velcro and open pocket zippers. It is best not to use a front-loading washing machine, but if you have one, try to get a mesh bag, or “delicates bag”, to put your garment in. For settings, you will want to do a gentle wash setting with a double rinse. (The soap must come out!)
After you wash your down garment, turn the it inside out. Remove excess moisture by rolling the garment up in a towel. Again, you’ll need to make the choice whether the piece needs DWR spray or not. Then with dryer balls or clean tennis balls, put the garment in the dryer on low heat until it drys and lofts again. This process can take up to 3 hours.
Wool is often called “nature’s tech fabric”. It can be a great base layer with its quick dry capabilities, but it can also easily get ruined. Nowadays, tech wool is treated differently and can handle washing machines, but the bottom line no matter what is that wool has no place in dyers. We chatted with Duckworth’s president, Don Rogers.
“Save time, water, and energy in the laundry room by choosing wool! Before tossing your wool garment in the hamper after every wear, be aware that wool is an antibacterial and antimicrobial natural fiber and requires less washing than your other clothes,” Rogers tells us. “When it does come time to wash your Duckworth or other wool garments, note the washing instructions that are sewn into the interior seam of your garment. In general I recommend a cold, gentle hand wash for lightweight garments and the gentle or wool wash cycle for heavier pieces. Heat and agitation are not friends of wool, so no dryers! Lay flat or hang drying is always recommended for wool clothing.”
Synthetics are great for a myriad of reasons, one being that like wool, they require less washing than other fabrics. Their biggest downfall, however, is the microfiber shedding that happens when washing. The good news is, this can be prevented using fiber filters. Filter bags, like the Guppy Friend reduce the microfibers from escaping into water systems while washing. You can even go one step further and get a permeant filter like the Wexco Filtrol 160 fitted to your washer.
Studies show synthetic jackets laundered in top-load washing machines shed more than five times as many microfibers as the same jacket in front-load washers according to Patagonia who are known for their synthetics and are known for their environmental endeavors.
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