What Makes a Jacket Waterproof?
What makes a jacket both waterproof and breathable is a membrane (laminated or coated) applied to the back of a fabric. There are three kinds: 2-layer (usually these are just called 2L), 2.5 Layer (2L with a printed or sprayed partial liner added for improved comfort on rainwear), and 3-Layer or 3L (the membrane sandwiched between the outer fabric and a liner). The pores of the membrane are small enough to block water droplets from passing through but are large enough to allow water vapor molecules (perspiration) to escape to the exterior. The difference between the temperature inside and outside the fabric creates the gradient that drives moisture out.
Traditional waterproof garments like a poncho or an old style raincoat are typically made of vinyl or PVC do not allow moisture to escape. This simply doesn’t work for outerwear meant to be used for physical activity where you generate body heat, even in cold climates. Therefore a proper outerwear garment needs to be waterproof and breathable. Without breathability you will feel wet because your sweat can’t escape.
What is Durable Water Repellent (DWR)?
DWR is a very thin coating applied to the outer surface of a fabric that makes exterior water bead off. This allows the micropores of the waterproof membrane to remain open, which allows sweat to evaporate off of your skin and vapor to escape through the fabric, rendering it breathable and keeping you warm and dry.
The combination of DWR and the fabric/membrane create a waterproof/breathable jacket.
The most important thing you need to know about any type of DWR is that wears off over time.
Just like needing to change your car engine oil regularly, a jacket must also be serviced periodically to keep it performing at its best. Therefore, it needs to be regularly re-applied.
How fast your DWR degrades depends on how hard you are on your gear. Abrasion from back packs, sweat and oils from your skin and hands, dirt, grease, sunscreen, and insect repellent all degrade this finish over time. You’ll know when this happens visually because the water will stop beading and will begin to penetrate the outer fabric. This is known as “wetting out.” This clogs the micropores in the membrane that normally allow your perspiration to escape.
As a general rule, we recommend cleaning and replenishing at the beginning of every season or before you put it all away at the end of the season. For the heaviest users, a wash and replenish may be needed as frequently as every 6 outings or so.
Regardless of what type of user you are, it’s time to reapply any time the water isn’t beading off the fabric. You can simply test this by pouring or spraying a little water on your gear and see what happens. If it beads, you’re good to go. If not, there are two simple ways to replenish DWR - Cleaning and reactivating or cleaning and reapplying.
- If the garment is dirty, first wash it, as recommended below. If the garment is already clean, you can reactivate the DWR by either putting your garment in the dryer on a low/medium setting for ~ 30 min or gently ironing it on the low setting. Then, perform the water test again. If the water beads you’re good to go.
- Usually you can do this a couple of times before you need to re-apply a Spray-on DWR.
Washing and Cleaning Outerwear or Gloves:
- If reactivating doesn’t work, we recommend only using special DWR washing and replenishing products. We like Granger’s products because they are Bluesign approved which guarantees they’re safe for us and the environment. Nikwax’s full line of products work really well too.
- You'll want to make sure you're using spray-on type treatments for 2-layer (2L) and 2.5-Layer (2.5L) outerwear and a wash-in for 3-layer (3L) shell outerwear for reapplying the DWR after a wash. Regardless, always follow the manufacturer’s directions which appear on the bottle. All of these products can be purchased at any of our flagship or online stores, and in most outdoor shops.
- In order for you to fully enjoy our products please always follow the washing instructions printed on the product label. Wash with low temperatures and avoid the use of softeners.
- Check the care instructions on the label to see if there are any unusual restrictions. Close all zippers and Velcro flaps. Use a powder soap, or better yet use Nikwax Tech Wash®. Never use a detergent with bleach, fabric softener, color brighteners or whiteners as these will leave a residue that masks the DWR coating and allows moisture to absorb into the fabric.
- If you can't find a technical outerwear wash product, you will want to use a soap-based cleaner (as opposed to a detergent) to maintain the best performance. If you absolutely have to use a regular laundry detergent, rinse twice (especially if using a liquid detergent) to remove more of the detergent residue.
- Wash a maximum 2 pieces of outerwear together at a time.
All other Performance Products (Down Jackets, Fleece, Leather, Softshells, Wool):
- We recommend Granger’s full line of Bluesign approved corresponding products for these materials. Nikwax products are also very good.
Backpacks and liners:
- Clean these by hand with a clean damp cloth or sponge.