Water beading on a waterproof shell jacket

How to wash waterproof jackets and pants

When your waterproof jacket was new, you might have noticed the way water beaded up on its fabric. A quick shake was all you needed to get rid of that moisture.

But after a season of adventures, your shell might need a little TLC. Maybe it’s starting to look a bit soggy, like the jacket on the left in this photo – a phenomenon known as “wetting out.” Or maybe it’s just plain dirty.

A waterproof-breathable jacket wetting out and another one with water beading up

Waterproof-breathable fabric wetting out (left) compared to the nicely beading water on the fabric on the right.

Test whether it’s time to wash your rain jacket by laying it flat and spraying it with water. If the water beads up, like it does on the fabric on the right, you’re all set. But if the jacket absorbs the water droplets, like the one on the left, it’s time to give it a wash and restore the waterproof finish.

Why wash a waterproof jacket or rain pants?

A waterproof-breathable membrane helps move moisture away from your body, while a durable water-repellent (DWR) treatment keeps rain and splashes out. But over time, the membrane and DWR finish can become clogged with dirt, sunscreen and oil from your skin, which makes them less effective. You know it’s time to wash your jacket or pants when they start wetting out, or when you see dirt or visible stains.

For small stains or dirt patches, try spot-washing with a wet cloth. But if your jacket’s really dirty, it might be time for a full wash.

How to wash a waterproof jacket

  1. Check the inner tag for the manufacturer’s washing instructions. We’ll go over the best practices for most waterproof-breathable fabrics, but it’s good to make sure they match what your jacket’s maker recommends.
  2. Rinse out your washing machine’s detergent dispenser, if possible, to get rid of any residue.
  3. Use a technical wash made especially for waterproof outerwear, or any mild detergent without additives like stain removers. Don’t use fabric softener, powder detergent or bleach – these could permanently damage the waterproof membrane.
  4. Close all zippers and hook-and-loop closures to prevent snags. Use a warm wash setting, an extra rinse to remove all detergent, and a low spin cycle.
  5. Dry your jacket by hanging it on a rack or hanger, or in the dryer on medium heat.
  6. Once it’s dry, put it in the dryer on a warm setting for 20 minutes. This heat helps reactivate the DWR treatment on the jacket’s outer layer. If you don’t have a dryer, put a towel or cloth over the jacket and iron it, using a low setting and no steam.
  7. Test your jacket’s water repellency by laying it flat and spraying water on it. If the water beads up, you’re all set – you’ve restored your jacket’s waterproofing. If your jacket still wets through, it’s time to reapply a waterproof finish.

How to re-waterproof a jacket or pants

Restore your jacket’s DWR treatment using either a spray or wash-in treatment. A wash-in waterproofer gives you more even coverage and is less messy, while a spray-on DWR treatment lets you target areas that are most likely to wet out because they get more abrasion and contact, like the shoulders, waist and cuffs. If your jacket has insulation or a fabric lining, your best bet is a spray-on waterproofer.

Follow the instructions on the product. If you’re using a spray-on treatment, apply it evenly across the jacket, making sure not to miss seams and awkward spots like elbows.

Test your jacket one more time, and you’re good to go.

Can you dry clean GORE-TEX or other waterproof fabrics?

It’s best to wash your waterproof-breathable gear in a regular washing machine. You can wash these items alone, or with a small load of lightly soiled clothing.

If you absolutely have to dry clean your jacket or pants, Gore recommends asking the cleaner to use clear distilled hydrocarbon solvent to rinse it, and then spraying DWR on the outside before drying.