06/10/2010 15:47:00

Words by tcsh

How to Clean & Waterproof Outdoor Gear

Water Repellent How to wash a waterproof jacket or reproof a pair of boots is one of the most common topics we get asked about at The Climbers Shop. “Should I wash my waterproof jacket?”, “Does washing waterproof jackets damage them?”, “What do I wash waterproof clothing in?”, “How do you re-waterproof a jacket to bring back the water repellency?”, all these questions and more have been posed to us.

What we will try to do here is to clear up some of the confusion over washing and waterproofing your gore-tex jackets and other outdoor clothing, as well as how to clean and care for your boots. If you do it right, you will get the best out of them and hopefully prolong the life of them (thus saving you money!).

Should I wash my waterproof jacket?

Yes, yes, and yes again. Just because it is a waterproof jacket, or a softshell etc, it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t need washing. When you wash an item of clothing normally, you are not only removing any stains, you are also extracting and oils and dirt that can build up in the fibres. These natural oils are what the smell producing bacteria set to work on and is why a t-shirt can start to smell once you’ve worn it for a few days (quicker for some!). This is exactly the same with your waterproof clothing and other outdoor gear as well.

TX-Direct-In-ActionWith waterproof clothing, the removal of those oils and dirts has an even more important function, the improvement of the garments breathability and waterproofing. If you keep them clean then both of these functions will work a lot better – we’ll go into more detail later.

For footwear the answer is the same – make sure you wash them. If you have got your boots dirty then make sure you give them a good wash with warm water. If you leave the dirt to get ingrained in the boot upper then it will deteriorate a lot quicker. What surprises people is that you should also clean the inside of the boot as well, especially if they have a Gore-tex or eVent membrane. Again, we’ll go into more detail later.

Does washing waterproof jackets damage them?

No, not unless you decide to use a washboard on the banks of a river! Outdoor gear is very robust, and there is little you can do when washing it to damage it.

What do I wash waterproof clothing in?

nikwax This probably the most confusing question, as there are so many products on the market. Whatever you do, do not use detergents on your outdoor gear as can clog the breathability and actually attract water. It is probably easiest to go through the types of garments to make it clear. We deal with Nikwax washing and waterproofing products, which is a long running and successful and is a water based product so tends to be better for the environment than some other brands. We will therefore list the relevant Nikwax cleaning product for each clothing type;

Washing Base Layers & Fleeces:

These can basically be treated like normal clothing, washing them in standard washing powder. If you want to get the absolute best out of your base and midlayer clothing (even cotton garments) then you can also wash them in Nikwax Techwash which not only cleans the garment but would also maintain the water repellent finish (DWR) that most modern fabrics are treated with.

Washing Softshells:

Most softshells fall into one of two categories; windproof membrane and non-membrane items. If the garment does not have a membrane in it to make it windproof then, just like the fleeces and base layers above, you can probably get away with washing them on a normal wash. If it has a membrane then it probably falls into the category below.

Washing Windproof and Waterproof Garments:

With few exceptions, these items all have membranes or some sort of Haglofs-Spitz-greenmicropore technology in them which keeps the rain and wind at bay. When you don’t wash your waterproofs, it is these tiny pores that can get blocked up with microscopic dirt and grime and stop the item working effectively. You normally get two issues when an item gets dirty; firstly the breathability of it decreases. This means that you start to feel more clammy and sticky when wearing it (this obviously means that you sweat more and clog the pores up even quicker!). The second issue is that the oils can upset the inherent hydrophobic (water repelling) properties of the fabric and in some cases it can actually start to attract water not repel it.
Washing waterproof or windproof garments in a pure soap, such as Nikwax Techwash, can therefore not only clean the dirt off, but in some cases it can actually restore the water repellency and breathability to the garment. The easiest way to do this is to pop the item into the washing machine with some Techwash, but you can hand wash it if you would prefer.


Rab-Neutrino-Lite-JacketWashing Down:

Although it hardly ever actually needs it, washing down jackets and sleeping is probably the hardest type of garment care you can tackle. The difficulty with washing down is that, if you do not dry it correctly, you can actually cause the down to clump worse than it was prior to washing. It is therefore essential that you use the correct non-detergent soap, such as Nikwax’s Down Wash, that will remove the dirt yet leave the water repellency intact.
After washing your down garment, you should spin dry it 3 times on a slow spin before tumble drying it on a low setting. In order to rid the down of ‘clumps’ it is quite advantageous to add some tennis balls to the tumble dryer which constantly bash into the garment and pummel the clumps out. You should also remove it regularly and manually tease and pat the clumps out before putting it back in.
If all of this sounds a bit too complicated then there are various companies who you can employ to wash your jacket or sleeping bag for you. Being professionals, these guys will almost be guaranteed to wash it correctly, thus removing the stress of the job.

Cleaning Leather Boots:

walking boots With few exceptions, cleaning leather boots is best done with water and hard work. As leather is a natural material, most cleaning products will lead to an alteration of the leather, usually drying it out, which can lead to unwanted cracking. The best way to clean leather boots is to do it regularly and use warm water and a sponge to remove the dirt and mud off of them. After cleaning your walking boots, you should then allow them to dry naturally. The worst thing you can do with leather (apart from using a solvent based cleaning solution, which dries them out loads!) is to dry them on a radiator/heater/next to the fire etc. This may be very tempting as a pair of soggy walking boots around the house is not pleasant, but if you over dry them then you will suck too much moisture out of them and dry the leather out.
The most effective way of drying walking boots is to push newspaper into them and leave them in a warm, non centrally heated area. Check them regularly and change the paper as many times as it takes for them to dry completely.

Cleaning Synthetic Boots:

TNikwax-Footwear-Clean-Gelo clean synthetic walking boots, much of the above applies here as well. The difference with synthetic footwear is that you can use cleaning products, as the man made fabrics and rubbers will happily tolerate the solvents etc. You can purchase various cleaning products that will help to remove stains and marks from your synthetic boots and shoes, such as Nikwax’s Footwear Cleaning Gel.

Cleaning Inside Boots:

For the inside of your footwear, you should use more warm water and a long handled brush (washing up brush) to get in to all parts of the inner. You can even fill up the inside of a Gore-tex boot or shoe in order to soak some of the dirt out. This will offer the added bonus of showing any leaks up, any water that starts to appear on the outside of the boot will indicate that you have a puncture in the Gore-tex membrane.

How do you re-waterproof a jacket to bring back the water repellency?

As previously mentioned, if your garment is starting to ‘wet out’ (soaking up water instead of repelling it) then you may just need to wash it. If however, after washing a waterproof jacket, it still doesn’t seem to have a water repellent finish then it is probably because abrasion has worn that layer of DWR off. In this situation, you will need to apply a product that will reapply a thin layer of water repellent DWR finish – or ‘Reproof’ it.

Reproofing Clothing

Nikwax-TX-Direct Waterproofing outdoor clothing such as Gore-tex jackets or softshells is actually very simple. Once you have washed it in the correct Nikwax product, and whilst it is still damp, you can then simply spray on some Nikwax TX Direct to the outside of the garment. TX Direct is a wax based material that naturally repels the water and therefore allows the rain to bead off the surface, like water off a ducks back!
You can apply a TX Direct wash in version, which does work very well as it is very thorough, however it has the drawback of adding a DWR finish to the inside of garment. This means that any moisture that you produce actually gets repelled back at you instead of being absorbed through the fabric and allowed to evaporate.
A far better way to re-proof your waterproof items is to use a spray on re-proofer and, if needs be, a sponge to spread the liquid evenly over the surface. When adding a waterproof finish to your clothes you should pay close attention to areas of high wear like the cuffs, and areas where your rucksack sits, as these will be the areas where the DWR finish has been rubbed off the most.
Nikwax TX Direct can be used on a wide variety of clothing types, from a technical t-shirt up to a fully featured Goretex jacket. There are specific waterproofing products available for other types of garments however;

Reproofing Softshells:

Much like using TX Direct, Nikwax also produce a Softshell Proof for softshells that have a wicking liner, which should be applied after washing in Techwash, either in a wash in or spray on form. You can also get Nikwax Polar Proof for more thermal pieces such as Polartec, and Primaloft.

Reproofing Down:

After (carefully) washing your down jacket or sleeping bag, a wash in a dose of Down Proof from Nikwax will restore the water repellent finish and also improve breathability. Just like washing down initially, this needs to be done carefully and dried well before use. If your sleeping bag has a waterproof outer shell then you can use a spray on version of Nikwax TX Direct instead.

Reproofing Boots:

Having cleaned your boots, you will want to restore the water repellent finish that you had when they were new. If you have a leather based boot or shoe, then the product you use to reproof your boots should be a wax based one that has no solvents in it. if you use a solvent then the leather out and could lead to cracks. A wax based reproofing agent, like Nikwax’s Waterproofing Wax, will restore the leathers natural oils that make leather such a waterproof material. If you find that the leather has dried out a little, then do not despair, a treatment of Nikwax Conditioner for Leather should treat and reproof your boots.
You can also obtain specific products for Fabric & Leather boots as well as Nubuck & Suede. These will restore the water repellent finish whilst maintaining the balance of the materials in the boot.


Although this Guide to Cleaning and Waterproof Outdoor Gear is quite long, it has hopefully covered the questions that you may have had about how to wash waterproof clothing and how to reproof your clothes and boots. If you have any further questions then please do not hesitate to get in touch with us, either via email or by calling us on 015394 30121.