With outdoor recreation reaching new heights of popularity, lots of people are dusting off their adventure gear (or shopping for new kit). But caring for those technical items can quickly get confusing. 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 help your gear last longer and perform better. Here’s the scoop on washing wool, cleaning Gore-Tex, and more.
When should you wash your Gore-Tex gear? Wash it (and any other waterproof garments) when there’s any buildup of sweat, body oils, dirt, or even campfire residue. Best part: Washing Gore-Tex apparel is actually really simple.
First, prepare your garment. Zip up the front zipper and any zippered underarm vents. Loosen all elastics and Velcro straps, and open the pockets (and make sure to check inside them). Now you’re ready to wash.
Use a gentle cleaner like Nikwax’s Tech Wash. You can also use regular detergent, but you’ll 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.
Next, you will have to decide if you need to apply DWR (Durable Water Repellant) spray. If the jacket has not been beading water or has been “wetting out” on you, you should spray it with some DWR. 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 that, place the garment in the dryer on a regular temperature setting until dry. The length of time will depend on your dryer. Make sure your clothing is dry to the touch when you pull it out.
Down can be a bit tricky, so 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 Men’s Journal.
You should also keep an eye out for “down migration,” he says. 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.
If you’re dealing with heavy sweat, body oils, or other stains (this often happens near the chin and neck), use soap and a brush before you wash to see if you can lift out those marks. Just make sure to rinse that area throughly after brushing.
“You only want to wash your down products as necessary because it is such a time consuming process,” says de Balasi Brown. “You should still wash them every so often, even if there aren’t any obvious signs.”
According to de Balasi Brown, 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’s best not to use a front-loading washing machine, but if you have one, get a mesh bag, or “delicates bag,” to put your garment in. You’ll want to do a gentle wash setting with a double rinse. (The soap must come out!)
After you wash your down garment, turn it inside out. Remove excess moisture by rolling the garment up in a towel. Again, you’ll need to assess 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. Fair warning: This process can take up to 3 hours.
Wool is often called “nature’s tech fabric.” It can be a great base layer thanks to its quick-dry capabilities, but it can also easily get ruined. Unlike traditional wool garments, modern tech wool is treated differently and can handle washing machines, but wool—no matter how it’s treated—has no place in dryers.
To get more insight on proper wool care, we chatted with Duckworth President Don Rogers.
“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 says.
When it does come time to wash your wool garments, always check the washing instructions that are listed on that item’s care tag.
“In general I recommend a cold, gentle hand wash for lightweight garments and the gentle or wool wash cycle for heavier pieces,” Rogers says. “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 GuppyFriend help prevent microfibers from escaping into water systems while washing. You can even go one step further and get a permanent filter like the Wexco Filtrol 160 fitted to your washer. Some washers are better than others: According to Patagonia, synthetic jackets laundered in top-load washing machines shed more than five times as many microfibers as the same jacket in front-load washers.