Waterproof clothing, footwear and equipment is often essential for enjoying the outdoors, and gives us instant protection from the cold and rain. Over time waterproofs can become less effective and stop working as well as they did when they were new. The good news is that it's actually pretty easy to restore them to their original waterproof glory using the cleaning and reproofing products that are now available - prolonging the life of your gear and saving you money!
This guide will give you some tips and info about cleaning and reproofing your gear, and hopefully answer a few questions along the way.
Why do I have to reproof my jacket? Isn't it waterproof already?
This is a common question and a very good one, and to understand why we need to understand a bit about how waterproof fabrics work. In clothing waterproof materials are generally made up of several layers and coatings all combined together to form a single fabric.
- The base material - usually synthetic, this is the coloured material you can see from the outside and is chosen for it's strength, durability and appearance. This layer can have extra features like a ripstop weave or printed logos, and is the layer that takes the most direct damage.
- The waterproof layer - this is applied to the back of the base fabric and can be either a coating or a breathable membrane. Coatings are usually cheaper but membranes offer much better durability and breathabilty. Examples of membranes include GORE-TEX® and eVent® fabrics. This layer is relatively fragile (which is why it's on the back) but as long as it remains undamaged the jacket should be waterproof.
- The water repellent finish - applied to the outside of the fabric this is a very thin, clear coating that gives the jacket it's 'shiny' finish. This layer is what makes the water bead up and run off rather then soaking into the base material. This finish wears off over time, and crucially this is the bit we can replace with reproofing.
There are sometimes additional layers or coatings on the inside of the fabric to protect the waterproof layer, and often jackets will have a loose mesh or fabric lining or layers of padding and insulation on the inside as well, depending on what the jacket is designed for.
So, how do we reproof?
Before reproofing clothing it's important to get it thoroughly clean. This is because we want the reproofer to stick to the fabric, not any dirt or residue on the fabric. Also, waterproof membranes have tiny pores that aid breathability and these also get blocked up over time, so cleaning helps here too. You will find cleaning instructions on your clothing - follow these closely and use a proper outdoor cleaner not your usual washing powder or gel, which could actually damage waterproof layers and prevent re-proofing from working.
Top Tip - You can usually machine-wash outdoor clothing, but if you do make sure there is no old washing powder residue in the tray before you start!
Cleaning can sometimes be enough to restore the water repellent finish, but if it's not this is when you need to reproof. Reproofers are either wash in (which means you need to put them through another machine wash) or spray on and come in different formulas for different fabrics - cotton, fleece, nylon etc. Instructions vary and can be found on the back of the bottle. Some reproofers need a warm (not hot!) tumble dry to 'activate' them, and others can be air dried.
Why do we reproof?
The water repellent finish is very important, even though it isn't strictly the bit that's responsible for keeping you dry (the waterproof layer looks after that). There are 3 great reasons why a good water repellent finish will allow your waterproof clothing to perform to it's best.
- Breathability and comfort - without a water repellent finish the base material would soak up any water and hold onto it - this is often called 'wetting out'. Although this water still wouldn't get through the fabric (thanks to the waterproof layer), it will make your clothing heavy and cold. The layer of water soaked up by the fabric also stops it from breathing, so your expensive GORE-TEX® jacket will end up feeling like a cheap Pack-a-Mac.
- First line of defence - if the waterproof coating or membrane in your clothing ever becomes damaged or degraded over time, there's not a lot you can do to repair it (although patches are available). In this instance a proper water repellent finish will hold off the worst of the weather and keep you drier for longer.
- Appearance - the water repellent finish doesn't just block rain, it also helps prevent dirt building up - making cleaning easier and keeping your clothing looking it's best.
Did you know? - Condensation caused by 'wetting out' and poor breathability is often mistaken for a fault or leak in the clothing. A good clean and a reproof can get rid of this problem instantly, and is much cheaper than buying new clothing!
The same principles apply to footwear as with clothing, although in footwear the waterproof layer is nearly always a membrane and the outer layers are thicker. This means you often get lots of mesh in the uppers to help with breathability. The high wear-rate on footwear means it will need cleaning and reproofing more regularly.
- Cleaning - tramping through mud, snow and scrubland is all part of the fun of being in the outdoors, but it does tend to lead to dirty footwear! Your boots or shoes should be rinsed and brushed under running water as soon as you get in to get rid of any dirt - especially if you have been walking in peat as this can be quite corrosive to fabric and leather. These days you can buy specialist outdoor cleaning gels and it's worth using something like this occasionally to get any stubborn dirt out. It's also a good idea to regularly rinse out the inside of your footwear - this doesn't just help prevent smells it also improves breathability by removing any residues that have built up.
- Drying - should be done slowly! Drying footwear on a radiator or by a fire can cause the uppers to crack, affect the shape and fit, and damage the waterproofing. Leave your boots in a warm room away from direct heat, and stuff them with newspaper to help soak up any internal moisture. Most footwear will dry overnight in these conditions.
- Reproofing - once clean and dry it's time to reproof. As with clothing there are different formulas for different types of uppers - leather, fabric, suede etc. The reproofer will put a water repellent finish on the outside of the boots or shoes, and in some cases help to condition the upper as well. Reproofers can be creams or solid waxes that are applied like a polish, sponge on formulas with an applicator, or spray on types.
If you think of a tent flysheet as a big waterproof jacket that you have to handwash, then you won't go far wrong - don't put it in the washing machine! Cleaning should be done gently with a proper specialist cleaner or pure soap product, and is a good opportunity to inspect seams and zips for damage. Smaller tents will fit in the bath for a soak, family tents may have to be pitched to clean them (if you can remove the bedrooms that will help). Drying must be done slowly by drip drying - if you have any doubt at all you should contact the manufacturer for guidance. Reproofing the outer will keep the tent in top condition, help with small leaks, and reduce some of the condensation inside.
Top Tip - choose a reproofer that also has a UV light inhibitor mixed into it. This will help to prevent sun damage to the flysheet and further extend the life of the tent.
Always remember - if you have any questions about how to care for or reproof your clothing or equipment there are 2 places you can get great help and advice:
- Your local Millets store - where we stock a range of cleaning and reproofing products and our staff will be happy to discuss their use with you.
- The manufacturer - who better to ask about your clothing or equipment than the people who made it? Most manufacturers are easily accessible via their websites and are always glad to help answer any questions you may have.
That just about covers it, but if you have any Top Tips of your own or questions about reproofing, why not leave them in the comments box below so others can share the benefits of your experience!
Thanks for reading, from all at Millets.