Caring for Waterproof Fabrics

Proper care of Waterproof Breathable Garments

Waterproof breathable materials allow water vapor to pass thru while stopping liquid water. This is done with a membrane of Fluoropolymer (Teflon type) material that has very small spaces allowing single molecules of water vapor to pass, but stopping water droplets.

These materials are made by manufacturers such as W.L. Gore® and Associates (makers of Gore-Tex®) and others. They are made in different densities from very water resistant (limited breathability) to slight water resistance but excellent breathability. They are always sandwiched between two or more layers of material for physical protection against tearing, and abrasion. Being made of Fluoropolymer, nothing sticks to the membrane itself short of roofing tar. Fluoropolymers are resistant to all common chemicals, it matters little if the membrane is clean, or what is used to clean it. The most common problems to affect the Fluoropolymer membrane are damage from sewing, tearing, or stretching. Proper care is not dictated by any special needs of the Fluoropolymer membrane.

It is the Outer Shell that determines how the garment must be cared for. Typically jackets or pants that have a Fluoropolymer membrane will have an outer shell that is factory treated with a fluoropolymer water repellent coating. This has obvious advantages if the Fluoropolymer membrane should leak. It is always important however that the Fluoropolymer coated outer shell remain clean and dry to allow the water vapor to escape. This is because the body moisture that passes thru the Fluoropolymer membrane must be allowed to escape thru the shell or it will accumulate reducing further evaporation and in some cases condensing making the garment feel wet. When it is raining the Fluoropolymer coating on the outer shell must keep beading and shedding the rain. Saturation of the shell stops its breathability, leaving nowhere for the body moisture to go.

So how do you care for the shell to keep it dry and breathing? Mostly, it must be clean. Never wash with a soap or detergent that leaves residue behind. This detergent residue covers the Fluoropolymer coating making it ineffective, allowing the water drops to spread out and leak thru the shell. W.L. Gore® recommends powder detergents to avoid the suggestion that special care is required for their Fluoropolymer membrane. Unfortunately, the residue from typical laundry powders and liquids covers the durable Fluoropolymer coating on the outer shell. These residual wetting agents allow water to spread out and soak in instead of beading and running off. Another source of wetting agents is air pollution. A new raincoat can lose its ability to bead water just by hanging in the closet for a year. Dry cleaning is not recommended as it also leaves a residue behind that stops the beading action.

Tests conducted at Clemson University School of Textiles demonstrate that Sport-Washand Sensi-Clean Laundry Detergent leave absolutely no residue. They rinse completely, leaving nothing behind to cover the fluoropolymer coating while other laundry products deposit chemical residue totaling 2 to 3% of the weight of the fabric. Leaving no residue allows the fluoropolymer coating on the outer shell to work like new.

Ironing at the highest setting recommended by the garment manufacturer further enhances the effectiveness of the repellant by activating the fluoropolymer molecules so that they can optimize their orientation and maximize the beading action of the water droplets. People often claim that washing with Sport-Wash or Sensi-Clean has restored the waterproofing of their garment and ask for the detergent with the waterproofing in it. There was nothing wrong with the Fluoropolymer coating at all; it was only dirty, allowing the water droplets to spread out and soak thru the shell.

By washing the garment in Sport-Wash or Sensi-Clean you are restoring the water repellence and breathability of the outer shell therefore enhancing the performance of the Fluoropolymer membrane.

If washing in Sport-Wash or Sensi-Clean without fabric softener followed by ironing fails to restore the shell to water repellent condition you can be certain there is no repellent present. It is rare to find a waterproof breathable garment without a fluoropolymer type Durable Water Repellent (DWR). It may have been an error, it may have been treated with wax or silicone instead of a DWR because it is not washable, or the DWR may have been exhausted by age, use, and improper washing or dry cleaning.

For washable and ironable fabrics use our Permanent Water-Guard. It is a superior fluoropolymer DWR in a non-flammable solvent-free non-Volatile Organic Compound formula. When applied and cared for per our instructions Permanent Water-Guard will exceed the performance and durability of factory applied DWR's because we do not use wax, silicone, or other extenders that make a big first impression and then wash away.

Permanent Water-Guard is guaranteed for 25 washings in Sport-Wash or Sensi-Cleandetergent. Keeping the shell dry and breathing assures you will enjoy the full benefit of your Waterproof/Breathable garment.

Leather, Suede or "Dry Clean Only" garments and boots can not be washed in Sport-Washor Sensi-Clean as required for fluoropolymer bonding, and can not be heated to cure and activate a DWR. For these applications use Silicone Water-Guard by Atsko, Inc. It is a heavy duty catalyzing silicone formula that cures without heat. Only one treatment is necessary but it does wash away in a few good soakings.

Waterproof breathable liners are often used in boots. Usually these boots will be silicone tanned because the liner would be useless if the boot soaked up water. Foot moisture passing thru the membrane must be absorbed by the leather in order to provide comfort. If the boot leather is soaked thru with oil, grease, animal fat, or water; the absorption and release of this foot moisture can not occur. Your boots will be heavy and your feet will feel wet and cold.

In boots as with garments, the Fluoropolymer membrane requires no special care. Simply care for the out side of the boot properly. If it is smooth top grain leather use Sno-Seal the original Beeswax Waterproofing. If silicone tanned, use Silicone Water-Guard. For split, suede, brushed, napped etc., use Silicone Water-Guard to preserve appearance, but for serious hard working water proofing use Sno-Seal, it will last longer.