The Benefits of Routine Raingear Care

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Waterproof-breathable garments are the most complex, expensive, and often important pieces to our layering system. They are relied on heavily as the first line of defense when the weather turns bad, and performance or lack thereof can make or break a hunt. Quality raingear isn’t something that needs to be babied, but there are steps that can and should be taken to ensure the highest performance is achieved on each outing. Furthermore, proper care for these garments goes a long way in promoting their longevity.

Before jumping into preventative measures, we first need to understand how and where raingear performance drops off due to neglected care.

The photos corresponding with each category below are of an original 2011 Chugach Pant that was worn heavily for four years, and only washed a couple of times with normal laundry detergent. Although the performance of these pants had deteriorated over time, you will see how NikWax was able to bring them back to life. While it’s possible to rejuvenate neglected raingear, routine care is a much better course of action.

Water Repellency

Every waterproof-breathable rainwear on the market comes standard with an exterior DWR (durable water repellent) coating on the face fabric. This coating causes water to bead up and roll off the garment, which in turn minimizes the workload of the waterproof membrane itself. While some DWRs are surely better than others, none last forever. Abrasion, dirt, and prolonged moisture are all unavoidable culprits that lead to the reduction in a given DWR’s effectiveness. Once a DWR has lost its potency, the face fabric will absorb more water (photo below). More water in the face fabric equates to a heavier garment that takes longer to dry, and also contributes to a loss in breathability.

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DWR Care and Re-Application

DWR treatment should be re-applied about once per season for frequently used items. It’s pretty easy to tell when the DWR has worn off, as it has a very visible affect on performance (see photo above). While it’s normal for some moisture to wick into the face fabric during prolonged exposure to water and friction or abrasion, the majority of water should roll off. When this stops happening, you know the DWR has lost some of its potency.

Fortunately, DWR rejuvenation is relatively cheap and easy. Simply machine wash the garment with a tech-specific detergent like NikWax Tech Wash (more on washing in the next section), and follow with an additional wash cycle with a wash-in DWR. You don’t need to dry between washes. We use and sell NikWax Softshell Proof as the go-to DWR for our raingear. Why Softshell Proof? Because our raingear is made with a 4-way stretch fabric, a standard Hardshell DWR is too brittle to handle the stretch in the fabric. If you are performing these steps on raingear with little to no stretch, then you want to use a true Hardshell DWR solution.

Below is our sample pant after undergoing Tech Wash and Softshell Proof DWR treatment. The difference is night and day. Notice the location on the pant is the same as the photo above.

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One more photo after 8 hours of standing water.

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Breathability

The breathability of a storm shell is one of the key factors that differentiates “top of the line” garments from “the rest”. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the first things to diminish as a garment gets used and abused. In addition to the negative effects of a wetted out face fabric explained above, sweat, skin cells, dirt, and oils from the body clog the backer and the membrane from the inside out. Likewise on the exterior face fabric, the buildup of soil and grime acquired over the course of a few hunts has a real affect on ventilation at the microscopic level.

The discoloration from years of sweat and body oils is obvious on the inside of our sample pant before washing:

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Maintaining Breathability

Breathability is maintained by routine washings with a technical detergent. NikWax Tech Wash is designed to cleanse the pores on the inside and outside of waterproof-breathable fabrics, without leaving behind invisible breathability inhibiting residue like a regular mainstream clothing detergent will. While it’s not as powerful as a full-on DWR reapplication wash, Tech Wash will also help prolong the water repellency on the face fabric. Raingear should be properly washed after every couple long, hard-use hunts.

Our sample pant after one wash in NikWax Tech Wash:

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Components

In the production of waterproof breathable fabrics, multiple layers of thin and fragile material is carefully bonded together using light layers of specialized adhesives. Once a garment has been sewn, all seams are taped for waterproofness through a process that requires even more heat-sensitive glue. Over time, bacteria buildup from body oils and dirt can eat away at these chemical adhesives that play an important role in the performance of raingear.

Note: Not all seam tapes are created equal. Obvious quality differences in seam tape can be seen throughout the industry upon visual inspection of the inside of different raingear garments.

The seam tape and laminated layers have held up well to the abuse in our sample pant, which likely wouldn’t be the case with cheaper components. KUIU raingear uses Bemis seam tape, a brand known for making the highest quality seam tape available. Seam tapes of lower quality are typically thin and transparent- sometimes so thin that the stitching can be seen raising up through the tape itself. If the stitching becomes fully exposed due to wear-through on the thin tape, steps must be taken to re-seal. Gear-Aid Seam Grip is a good product in this situation.

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Ensuring the longevity of seam tape and lamination bonding agents is achieved through a regular washing routine, as described above in the breathability section. Refrain from using extremely hot water and drying methods, as some seam tapes are heat-sensitive.

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NikWax: Additional Information

NikWax Tech Wash and Softshell Proof can be purchased as a bundle kit in the KUIU Gear Shop. One bottle of Tech Wash provides 2-3 washes worth of solution, while one entire bottle of Softshell Proof is required for DWR application. Click the link below for more information.

Link: NikWax DuoPack

Whether you’re planning on purchasing a new set of raingear this season or you’re still getting use out of an older set, the same rules apply: keep it clean and rejuvenate the DWR as needed. Without question, taking these steps throughout the season will pay dividends in the day to day performance and season to season longevity of your waterproof-breathable investments.

-Todd Harney

13 thoughts on “The Benefits of Routine Raingear Care

  1. for tiburon pant and shirt what would you recommend washing them with and what washing cycle procedure for them? im always hunting in 80-90 degree heat in them and they can get soiled easily, i want to wash them to help with scent but also dont want to break down the dwr treatment by washing too much. thoughts?

    • NikWax Tech Wash is a good product for Tiburon, and remember that washing/drying actually helps the DWR. In all honesty though, I mainly wash my Tiburon with regular unscented detergents the same as my daily street clothes. Our early deer season sees temps climb above 100 which calls for frequent clothing washes… and I personally don’t see the need to burn through that much NikWax. A NikWax bath once every 3-4 washes seems to work fine. Thanks for reading Glen.

      • Hi Todd,

        Are other kuiu products similar (meaning they can be washed with regular detergent and not ruin the fabric)? I’m pretty sure merino needs nikwax every time, but what about peloton, primeflex outerwear, etc…? Thank you!

        • Hi Ryan,

          Everything we make is safe to wash with regular detergent, including Merino. Just keep the temperatures on Medium and you’ll be just fine with washing it all. NikWax is good a few times per season for the waterproofing reasons described here, but not necessary every time by any means.

          Todd

  2. Great article Todd. I had heard some of this but was not sure as everyone has opinion these days. Thanks for the reply to Glen also – answered another question I had.
    Keep the tips coming!

    • Hi Owen,

      We do sell these product in the KUIU Gear Shop section, although NikWax recently discontinued the DuoPacks so we are currently working on getting set up to sell the Softshell Proof and Tech Wash individually. Thanks for reading.

      Todd

    • The NikWax Softshell DuoPack would be best for cleaning and DWR treatment. We do sell this, but it didn’t transfer over to the new web platform yet- we’re working on it. Best use would be to wash with normal detergent most of the time, but use the NikWax Tech Wash about every 3rd or 4th time you wash them; or when they’re extra dirty. The DWR treatment (Softshell Proof) should only be needed once, maybe twice per season if you’re wearing them a lot. For the Softshell Proof, just follow the same guidelines seen here.

      Good luck.

      Todd

  3. You said that it would take a whole bottle of the DWR soft-shell product to work on one application. The instructions say to use 3 oz per 2 garments max. Should an entire bottle be used anyway to get best results? I have a set of guide top and bottom and a set of Chugach top and bottom.

    • The instructions direct from the NikWax website say 10 oz (the whole bottle) for top-loading washers, or 3 oz per garment for front-loading washers. I have a top-loader and do a whole bottle each time with quality results.

      To make it go further, you could always use the hand-wash method:

      Immerse 1 clean garment in 6L hand-hot water in sink or bowl.
      Use 2fl oz (50ml) of SoftShell® Proof.
      Agitate to mix, leave to soak for 5-10 minutes, then agitate thoroughly.
      Rinse with cold water until water runs clear.

  4. I just bought the Kenai Hooded Jacket, Ultra NX Rain Jacket, Super Down Pant, Attack Pants, Guide Gloves, and Merino Neck Gaiter.

    Should my first wash be with Nikwax or just regular non-scent detergent? I want to make sure I protect my investment because this gear is incredible!

    • Hi Dave,
      Your first wash does not need to be done with NikWax. 2-3 times per season is usually plenty, or following those long hunts when your clothes were subjected to day after day of heavy sweat, mud, abrasion, etc. For general washing after shorter hunts, regular non-scented detergent will not hurt a thing. Use cool or warm water- avoid high heat.

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