Wash and Impregnate your GoreTex Jacket so you Feel Dry and Warm Again

Wash and Impregnate your GoreTex Jacket so you Feel Dry and Warm Again

After a day-long hike in the rain in the Scottish highlands, Katja and I noticed that our GoreTex rain jackets no longer felt as dry and warm as when they were new. So we researched the topic extensively, learned a lot about how to wash and impregnate GoreTex products, then tried out various (and often conflicting!) suggestions from GoreTex, from the manufacturers of our jackets (Marmot and Norrøna) and from “the Internet”.

Read below what worked best and how we suggest that you treat your jacket.

Does your expensive rain jacket have “wet out” also?

Has water stopped forming droplets on the outside of your GoreTex jacket? Does the outer layer get dark, heavy and wet when exposed to rain? Do the insides of the sleeves, shoulders and hood feel cold and damp?

If yes, you probably feel sad or angry since you expected your expensive jacket to hold longer than 1–2 years. But don’t worry: what you are experiencing is a condition called “wet out” which is normal and easy to treat. 🙂

Both our jackets exhibited a clear case of "wet out", so we need to learn about how to wash and impregnate GoreTex

Both our jackets exhibited a clear case of “wet out”, so we need to learn about how to wash and impregnate GoreTex

GoreTex® and the DWR

GoreTex® is a membrane with a very interesting property: wind and rain are not able to enter from the outside to the inside, but body moisture is transported from the inside to the outside. Since this membrane is quite thin and fragile, anything with GoreTex is made from several layers. Hard shell jacket material consists of a tough outer fabric, a GoreTex membrane, an optional insulation and a soft inner lining. At the factory the outer fabric is treated with a durable water repellent (DWR) polymer which causes rain to form droplets and to roll off easily instead of penetrating the fabric.

Dust, dirt and everyday use of your jacket (touching, bending, folding, rubbing) reduce the effectiveness of the DWR and water enters the outer layer. This interferes the breathability of the outer layer and your body warmth starts to condense underneath the GoreTex membrane. You start feeling cold and damp inside your jacket even though technically the fabric is still waterproof — you are experiencing the dreaded “wet out” condition.

Wash and impregnate GoreTex jackets to solve “wet out”.

To bring your GoreTex jacket back to life you need to do two things:

  1. Get the dirt out in order to restore the breathability of the outer layer.
  2. Reactivate or renew the DWR layer which keeps the outer layer dry and clean (for a while).

There is no easy way to know when t’s enough to reactivate the existing DWR and when you need to apply a new layer, but since reactivation is cheaper and easier, you can try it first. If your “wet out” doesn’t go away or if it reappears quickly, it’s time for a new DWR layer.

You can also alternate: after 1–2 years reactivate, after another 1–2 years reapply. Both “treatments” are easy and both involve similar steps.

Reactivate the existing DWR layer Apply a new DWR layer through spraying Apply a new DWR layer through washing
Empty all pockets of your jacker and close all zippers and velcro flaps. Wash your jacket according to the manufacturer’s instructions (these are usually printed on a label sewn on the inside). It will read something like this: machine wash in a short and gentle cycle at 40°C. Use a technical wash liquid or just a tiny bit of liquid detergent (no bleach, no softener). Rinse very well and do not spin-dry or do so very gently.
Hang the damp (but not wet or dripping) jacket on a coat hanger or spread it on a flat surface. Use a “spray-on” impregnation liquid and generously spray the outer layer from a distance of 15 cm / 6 inches. Don’t overdo it (there should be no puddles) but also don’t leave any untreated areas.

The advantage of this method is that you can spray the sleeves, shoulders and hood more intensely for better protection.

Wash the jacket once more, but this time use a “wash-in” impregnation liquid instead of a technical wash or detergent. Once again, no bleach or softeners and no spin-drying.

The advantage of this method is that the impregnation agent is distributed automatically and evenly across the entire surface of your jacket.

Tumble-dry at a relatively low temperature for about 30 minutes. If you do not have access to a tumble-dryer: hand-iron at low temperatures through a cloth and without using steam. Iron all surfaces.
The final result: looks, feels and protects like new!

The final result: looks, feels and protects like new!

Why are there so many negative product reviews online?

You can find numerous negative reviews online for virtually every product, which made us quite skeptical at first. But it seems that many of the negative-ewview authors either used the prong products (for example a GoreTex products on a down jacket) or didn’t perform all necessary steps (use a spray but without washing first or wash but do not warm-dry at the end).

So let’s repeat the most important facts:

  • The minimum actions required for solving “wet out” are to wash your jacket (ideally with a special washing liquid) and then dry it with moderate heat. This will reactivate your existing DWR layer, but there might not be much DWR left to reactivate.
  • If you want to apply a new DWR layer, you must wash your jacket first (again, ideally using a special washing liquid). After that you must either wash once again using a wash-in impregnation liquid or spray the jacket generously with an impregnation spray. And you must dry your jacket with moderate heat in order to activate the new DWR layer.

Which are the best products to impregnate GoreTex materials?

For the initial washing

There are many confusing instructions for this step. The well-known jacket manufacturer Marmot says “do not use liquid detergent”, while the company GoreTex says “do not use powder detergent”. Some outdoor enthusiasts suggest using soap flakes, but warn that those might clog your washing machine.

So we suggest that you spend 10 EUR and buy a special “technical wash” which is specifically formulated for machine washing GoreTex materials. Clean the detergent drawer of your washing machine thoroughly before pouring the technical wash in there.

We used Nikwax Tech Wash, and are very happy with the results.

For the Impregnation

There are dozens of alternatives on Amazon and at any outdoor store, so read the labels carefully and select a product which is specifically designed for impregnating GoreTex fabrics.

The choice between wash-in and spray-on in is up to you, with the advantages of each listed in the table above. We used Nikwax Tx.Direct Wash-In, and are very happy with the results. Or if you decide to use an impregnation spray, we would suggest Nikwax Tx.Direct Pray-On.

There are new products on the market which contain the technical wash and wash-in impregnation in a single bottle. Using such a product will allow you to skip the second wash cycle, but we haven’t tried these products, so we cannot comment on their effectiveness.

Tumble dry or not?

Even Nikwax, one of the leading manufacturers of GoreTex care products, is not sure on this one. On one web page they say that the Nikwax impregnation washes and sprays do not need to be heat-activated, but on another page they say that if you have access to a ruble-dryer, you can use it for better results.

Apparently it doesn’t hurt, so we threw our jackets in a 40-degree dryer for 20 minutes.

Please choose environmentally friendly products

Products without fluorocarbons (PFCs) are good for you and for the environment, so please spend 2–3 EUR more for an environmentally safe product.

By the way: “PFC-free” is better and safer than “PFOA-free” or “PFOS-free”.

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