How long does a waterproof jacket last? Can you re-proof your jackets? What tips do the experts offer?
You know that feeling, when you first see how efficiently your brand-new waterproof jacket copes in the rain. It feels great, doesnâ€™t it? I love watching the rain simply roll off the outside of a shiny, new jacket.
But then the inevitable starts to happen. Although the jacket still works fairly well to keep the rain out, the fabric begins to â€œwet outâ€. The jacket looks like it has been soaked in water and eventually some of that rain does get inside to leave your baselayers damp.
â€œBut,â€ you rage: â€œI spent hundreds of pounds on that waterproof jacket. It still looks good and itâ€™s a great brand. Yet itâ€™s starting to leak. Is there anything I can do?â€
The short answer from all the experts is: â€œYes.â€
Different types of waterproof jackets
Look around and you will find a huge range of waterproof jackets, with different names, such as Gore-Tex, eVent, Isotex etc, but they basically fall into two or three categories.
Coated and breathable membranes
These are fabrics that have a membrane construction with a PU coating. The way that these fabrics are constructed is by spreading a thin layer of resin directly on to the inside face of the fabric. This is also known as a hydrophilic coating.Â The seams are also sealed for further waterproofing.
Hydrophilic coatings rely on the behaviour of water molecules, in that heat generated by the body inside the garment drives body moisture down the polymer chains in the coating to the external face. This is also known asÂ moistureÂ management.
Durable Water Repellency (DWR)
DWR is added to the fabric to form a protective wall. DWR is a chemical treatment that helps to keep water out but also allows aids breathability. Because DWR being applied to the outside of the fabric, it is easily affected by dirt, which can hinder performance.
Gore-Tex claims to make the most waterproof and breathable membrane fabric on the market. All Gore-Tex shell fabrics are also treated with an ultra thin treatment of DWR.
Why do jackets start to leak?
Dirt, stains, insect repellent etc can clog up the fabric membranes. In addition, DWR is not permanent. Regular wear and tear, plus exposure to dirt, detergents and other impurities can shorten its lifespan.
How to look after your waterproof jacket
All jackets end up dirty and in the end they will all â€œwet outâ€. However, good practice will help to keep your jacket in good condition.
Washing a waterproof jacket
There are two schools of thought on this one. Some companies â€“ mainly the ones that sell the fabric wash â€“ tell you to wash your jacket in a washing machine on a low temperature using a â€œtechâ€ wash. They say that normal detergent is to be avoided because it can be abrasive and also may clog up the â€œporesâ€ of the fabricâ€™s membrane.
Top tip: Clean the detergent dispenser in the washing machine to avoid contamination!
Alternatively, the advice from Gore-Tex is to wash in the washing machine with a normal liquid detergent, but not a powder detergent or any detergents that include conditioner, fabric softener or bleach.
How to prepare the garment for washing
The brands all agree on this one. Loosen all draw cords and close all zips and Velcro so the jacket doesn’t catch. If there are any really filthy bits, rub a bit of neat â€œtech washâ€ or liquid detergent directly on to the affected area(s). Wash a maximum of two items in one machine load.
Is washing enough?
Most experts reckon that washing a jacket and letting it dry naturally will reproof a new-ish jacket. However, if your jacket is still letting in the rain, you can take some further re-proofing steps. Again, the tech wash and reproofing companies recommend a reproofing product. These are either wash in or spray on products.
The reproofing brands
Like most waterproofing product brands, Nikwax sell a range of cleaners and reproofers for fabrics. The products can be used in a hand wash or, better still, in the washing machine. Nikwax recommend using a delicate wash setting on a slow spin with the wash-in treatments.
They add: â€œThen warm dry your jacket for best results. A tumble drier is the perfect place for this. This will allow products, such as TX Direct Wash In, to â€˜sealâ€™ on to the outer of the fabric.â€
It is also possible to dry the reproofed jacket over a warm radiator, in a warm airing cupboard or in dry and hot sunshine.
According to the company, Grangerâ€™s sell â€œproofing technologies that replicate the water repellency applied to boots, garments and equipment when they were newâ€. Or their mantra: â€œOriginal Performance Restoredâ€.
Granger’s cleaners and proofers will remove dirt, oils and stains and then re-coat the jacket with a DWR repellent that is claimed to be as good as when the original garment was made. They sell a range of products, including:
- Non-washing machine spray cleaner
- 2-in-1 cleaner and waterproofer
- Washing reproofer without need for tumble drier
- Spray reproofer.
Storm is the new kid on the reproofing block. Their website offers lots of tips and advice. Their main products for waterproof jackets are a wash-in cleaner, wash-in reproofer (both air cure and heat cure) and spray on waterproofer.
They state: â€œIf you have used our air cure product, just hang your garments our to dry. When the garments are dry, they will be ready to use.
â€œIf you use our heat cure product, it is best to drip dry then tumble your garments to fully dry, or iron with the fabric protected with a tea towel.â€
One of the most popular â€“ although itâ€™s also one of the priciest â€“ waterproof fabrics is Gore-Tex. The company states: â€œNot only are GORE-TEXÂ® garments built to last, they are easy to care for.â€
They recommend that to keep the fabric in good condition:
- Machine wash on a warm cycle (105Âº F/40Âº C) using a small amount of liquid detergent. (This we can presume is normal liquid detergent although Gore-Tex also state: â€œDo not use powder detergents or any products that contain fabric softeners, conditioners, stain removers or bleach as they will affect garment performance. Do not wash with heavily soiled clothing.â€)
- Rinse twice, and minimise spinning to reduce creasing.
- Line dry your garment, or tumble dry it on a warm, gentle cycle.
- Once it is dry, tumble dry your garment for 20 minutes to reactivate the durable water-repellent (DWR) treatment on the outer fabric.
- If unable to tumble dry, iron the dry garment on gentle setting (warm, no steam) by placing a towel or cloth between the garment and the iron. This will help reactivate DWR treatment on your garmentâ€™s outer fabric.
Gore-Tex and water-repellent treatments
Only when the factory-applied treatment can no longer be reactivated should you apply a new water-repellent treatment (available at local outdoor retailers) to the garmentâ€™s outer fabric.
Is my jacket too old to reproof?
All the reproofing brands that I approached said that most jackets can be revitalised. It will depend on how old and worn the jacket is but most can be â€œrevitalised to an extentâ€.
Ben Bullivant, the Quality Assurance & Development Technician, at Grangerâ€™s International, said: â€œEven if jackets are a bit older and have seen better days, they can be reproofed. However, the level of performance and durability does depend greatly on the type of jacket, the manufacturer and material type, as well as what condition it is in. If the jacket is a good quality jacket, then the chances of revitalising are much greater.
His tips for revitalising an older jacket are:
- Pre-treat stubborn stains on the jacket with stain removers or normal detergents.
- Then wash the jacket in the washing machine with normal detergent to remove stains.
- Then wash the garment again with a technical cleaner to clear away any dirt trapped in its waterproofing layers.
- Now reproof with a Grangerâ€™s performance proofer. This is a water-based, wash in proofer.
- If the garment is suitable for tumble drying, and you have one, make use of it because this will improve the waterproof performance. (Make sure you check the garment care label.)
And you can waterproof cotton, fleece and merino
Waterproofing doesnâ€™t stop at jackets. Many brands now sell waterproofing products for cotton t-shirts, polar fleeces and merino baselayers.
For example, Nikwax sells Polar Proof that claims to â€œadd Durable Water Repellency to any fleece garmentâ€ and new Cotton Proof to waterproof cotton garments. (We will be testing these products in the future.) You can apply for Nikwax samples by playing their quiz.
There are also reproofers for tents, rucksacks, footwear and sleeping bags.
Tell us about your experiences and tips for reproofing jackets.