Your rain jacket, or jacket that may have been specially treated to repel water may need a little extra care when it comes to cleaning it. Rain jackets usually aren't a toss-in-the-washer then dryer on-the-go sort of garment. Especially waterproof breathable jackets or garments.
Do you look down at your waterproof jacket when in the rain and notice that it's no longer beading up as much as usual, or, the water's being soaked up and you are getting wet? This is called, "wetting out," and it's an indication that your performance water-resistant jacket isn't working to its full potential anymore. The solution can be extremely simple: clean it.
Waterproof, breathable gear is one of the key outdoor gear for almost 40 years. Jackets like these make being active in severe, harsh weather comfortable and more importantly: survivable.
Dirt, oils from skin contact or sunscreen and other contaminants can cause water to soak in, instead of beading off. It also starts hindering the breathability of that jacket and preventing its key technology from working as it should.
As the saying goes, "take care of your gear, and your gear will take care of you." Keeping a rain jacket or water repellent jacket clean requires a few different steps than usual and here's how to do that.
What kind of detergent you use on your rain jacket can be guilty of wearing out that waterproof finish. Household detergents leave a residue that attracts water to the surface of the fabric and can lead to wetting out. Using the right cleaner and rinsing your rain jacket twice can remove these water-attracting leftovers.
Tactical gear or waterproof high-intensity gear may be treated with DWR (durable water repellent) that protects the moisture. You want to protect and keep that DWR. Using detergents that leave residue may contribute to increased odor, not to mention how sweat and body oils can now seep into the fabric easier as well.
There are a huge variety of active or technical wear powder detergents out there to choose from that can all get your rain jackets clean. The key is making sure it is a very mild, powder soap that works for you and making sure everything is rinsed out thoroughly.
Step 1: Check the washing instructions
Your rain jacket or water repellent jacket should have a tag on it. Check the washing instructions on the tag, as of course, not every jacket is the same, and not all materials are handled the same. While care may be like most waterproof gear, it's important to follow exactly what the manufacturer's tag tells you to extend the life of and make sure you don't do damage to such an important wearable.
Make note if your rain jacket has any trimmings such as a leather collar. If it's not all waterproof, you may have to forgo the washer all together and clean using an alternative method. We'll be covering how to clean a rain jacket without any special trimmings or mixes of different materials.
Step 2:Access any heavier stains if there are any. Treat before washing.
Now you've checked the tag and know what temp water to use, whether it needs handwashing or can be put in the washer. Before putting it in the wash though, is your rain jacket heavily stained as well or is it normal wear and tear? General use without any heavy soilage and you can usually skip this step. But if your rain jacket goes with you everywhere and you tend to play or work hard, stains such as ground in dirt, heavy sweat along the collar or cuffs that cause discoloration, blood, grease, and food need to be pre-treated.
Remember before treating any stain to spot-check first. There's not 100% guarantee that specialty cleaners or cleaning agents won't leave a faded mark or affect the color or fibers of your jacket.
Stubborn stains take work, and you may have to repeat these pre-treatment steps several times.
• Dirt or Dried Mud: Use cold water to dampen the dirt or ground in mud. Take a very soft bristle toothbrush or a clean, soft cloth to dab at ground in, dried dirt to loosen. Rinse in cold water. Repeat until there are no loose particles. If your entire jacket is coated, rinse the entire thing in cool fresh water until the water runs clean.
• Saltwater exposure: If you're working in salt or freshwater constantly, your jacket needs rinsing in freshwater. Yes, again, even if it's just freshwater exposure. Saltwater slowly destroys everything, so rinsing it thoroughly first to get it off it is a must. Dried on salt should be brushed away with a soft bristle brush before rinsing.
• Grease: Dampen the stain with cool or cold water. Never use warm or hot, as hot water only helps stains set in. Dab a bit of dish detergent on the stain and gently work in with fingers or a very soft brush/cloth. Rinse and repeat until the stains are gone. If the grease stain is stubborn, consider grabbing a safe cleaning fluid made for the fibers of your rain jacket specifically.
• Ink: Denatured alcohol or isopropyl alcohol can work as great spot cleaners, but double-check your rain jacket won't react to it. Test first with a drop on an inconspicuous part of your jacket and allow to dry. If there's no discoloration, go ahead and use on stain. Denatured and isopropyl work exceptionally well in removing ink stains, but avoid it entirely on acetate, rayon, wool or silk.
• Gum or sap: For gum or sap, grab an ice cube and freeze the stain first. Use a very dull knife or edge to gently scrape off as much as you can, going back to freeze the stain as you work. Soak the stain in between working at the gum or sap with cool water.
• Blood: Loosen and remove any dried or bloody debris first by dampening with cold water. Dab the stain with a clean cloth, or work at it with fingers, or use a very soft-bristled brush while rinsing in between to work as much as the blood out. If it's a stubborn stain, test a small spot of your rain jacket's fabric with hydrogen peroxide to see how it reacts. If no discoloration happens, you can dab the peroxide directly onto the blood stain, dab or tamp with a soft brush or cloth. Let it sit for at least 5 minutes. Blot again with a wet, white, undyed towel or cloth. You can also try enzyme cleaners that are color-safe and made specifically for water repellent fabrics that may lift the stain as well.
Step 3: Wash
You've read the tag; you've pretreated any heavy stains and removed them or removed what you can. It's time to wash!
- Don't use standard detergent. Use specific detergents made for waterproof, or water repellent fabrics that can strip away dirt and oil without ruining the jacket's material or waterproof finish.
- Wash in cool or cold water.
- Wash using delicate, hand wash, or gentle cycle.
- After washing and rinsing have finished, rinse again to ensure all residue and traces of detergent is gone.
Step 4: Dry
Depending on what your jacket's tag says, you may be able to toss it into the dryer or have to air dry it.
If your rain jacket can be placed in the dryer, go ahead. Generally, you'll want to dry it:
- On the lowest heat setting your dryer has.
- Tumble dry, gentle.
If your rain jacket tells you to air dry it, remove it from the wash and you can:
- Lay it out flat on a clean, dry towel, a hanger or outside to air dry.
Try and wash your rain jacket as little as possible to help protect its waterproof finish if possible. Washing only after heavy use will help your rain jacket remain waterproof. In certain cases, if after following the above steps, you notice that your DWR rain jacket is still not beading up and still wetting out, it may be time to reactivate or reapply a waterproof finish. You can easily do that with many excellent spray finishes specifically tailored to your jacket's fabric that will help reinvigorate its water repellent abilities.