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Maybe you feel a little trickle on your skin, or you see rain soaking into your jacket where it used to bead right off. Both are signs that your shell—which was once your armor against nature’s worst—is losing its ability to keep you dry. What went wrong?
Nothing. Even the best-built shells lose some water-repellency over time. Just how long depends on how much you wear it and the durability of the original construction.
Most waterproof/breathable rainwear is coated with a Durable Water Repellant (DWR) fabric finish that acts like wax on a car: It makes rain bead off the surface, which improves the garment’s ability to vent your sweat (moist air passes through the fabric between those beads of water).
But that DWR finish wears off as the garment rubs against rocks or backpack straps. Dirt can also prevent DWR from doing its job. And the newer, more environmentally-friendly DWR treatments that manufacturers are currently using don’t last as long as the old C8 formulas (which contain perfluorocarbons that are harmful to humans and environmental health).
But of course, if you’re like most consumers, chances are your accepted “waterproof” standard feature is what is currently on your outdoor gear and you think nothing more of it. In many cases, these brands have taken the easier route by simply applying the most “cost-effective” durable water repellent (DWR) on their gear…but why wouldn’t they right? Well not all DWRs are the same.
Innovations are on the horizon. A new high-performance DWR, called Altopel F3, which by the way contains no perfluorocarbons, is currently being field-tested by several outdoor brands to make sure it meets their durability standards and most importantly your DWR performance needs.
But until such shells hit market, you can prolong the life, just a little, of your current jacket until you are ready to buy a new one. Here are a few household tips on DWR finish maintenence.
Wash Away Dirt
Laundering your shell lifts away dirt and oils that may be smothering the DWR molecules embedded in the fabric. But machine-washing is also abrasive, so don’t clean garments unless you suspect that dirt is inhibiting performance. Follow the instructions on the jacket’s care tag, which generally recommends the gentle cycle and a mild powdered detergent (liquid detergents and fabric softeners leave residues).
Heat the Jacket
Some waterproof fabrics can tolerate a bit of heat, which revives DWR molecules. After laundering, toss your jacket in the dryer (check temperature recommendations on the care tag) or use an iron on the low steam setting to give the fabric a careful pass.
Ready To Buy?
When you do decide to invest in a new shell, do some research on the new innovations in DWR. Bone up on Altopel F3 and read the hang-tags that describe the fabric technologies. A little research goes a long way toward making sure your jacket meets your standards for durability and sustainability.