Rinsing is the first step to keeping Gore-Tex®, eVENT®, and other breathable waterproof fabrics working effectively. Over time, though, things like sand, fish slime, and salt will begin to work their way into the fibers of these materials. When that happens, the fabrics begin to retain a bit of water, rather than repel it, and they become less breathable. That means more sweat is being kept inside the suit and you’ll become less comfortable. If you’re less comfortable, you’ll be less likely to wear it. If you don’t wear it, then you might be opening yourself up to some safety issues.
But I digress.
Correctly caring for your dry gear does not take a lot of work. It does, however, take a bit of time. Instead of your average load of laundry taking less than a couple hours, cleaning up your dry gear can take a couple days. Unlike regular clothes, waterproof fabrics have special coatings that can be washed out with regular laundry detergents. Clothes dryers can destroy latex seals.
So how do we take care of outerwear?
Start off with hand washing. Products like Gear-Aid’s “ReviveX®” are made for waterproof fabrics like those used in our dry gear. It is also very simple to use - add some to the bottom of a tote or wash basin (unless you are cleaning more than five items, a bathtub might be too much), fill with warm water, and let your waders soak. A ten-gallon tub is enough to soak a pair of waders, dry pants, try top and a whole drysuit. Soak the gear for about twenty minutes, agitating and moving them around to get them cleaned up. If you’d like, a soft-bristled brush can be used to clean up tough spots. Rinse gear thoroughly and allow to hang dry. Keep it out of the sun and dryer, though! More often than not, that is all you have to do to keep the coatings in good shape and your dry gear repelling water correctly.
If you have a front load washing machine or a topload without the center agitating post, you are in luck! You can wash your gear in the washing machine. These machines are easy enough on clothing, unlike standard uprights with the center post. Follow the directions on the ReviveX® on how to machine wash. Use warm water and gentle cycles to get things clean without damage.
As your gear dries, inspect all the taped seams and gaskets. Make sure none of the tape is peeling nor the gaskets cracking. If you have latex gaskets or waterproof zippers, it is a good time to treat them with 303® Products “Aerospace Protectant”. This will help ensure that latex will stay soft and subtle. As much as simply rinsing your dry gear after use, applying Aerospace Protectant to all the latex seals and gaskets should be part of a regular routine every four to six weeks--even if they are hanging in the closet the whole time. Aerospace Protectant is like “SPF 40 For Your Stuff!" and can also be used to keep your kayak in top shape.
For most, you are probably done. But if your gear is old enough, and abused enough, they’re still not repelling water like the good ol’ days. It’s time to restore that repellency with 303® “Fabric Guard”. Restoring the fabric is easy since Fabric Guard is just a spray-on product. You’ll want to treat your gear at least twelve hours before you plan on using it again. By spraying things down just after they are dry, it should have ample time to dry and be ready for the next use. If your gear is beading up water just fine after a regular wash, then this step is completely optional.
Do not overlook zipper care! Regularly lubricate your waterproof zippers with McNett “Zip Tech®”. This will help make zippers open and close more easily, making them less susceptible to damage from tugging and pulling too hard. When storing dry gear with zippers, make sure the zippers are left open so the seal does not compress and fail. When rinsing, pay close attention to ensuring any sand and grit is cleaned. Using a soft-bristled nylon brush will help sweep away any grime. Wax zippers every few uses, or whenever they start feeling tough to use.
Complete all these necessary tasks, and your dry gear will be about as good as new. Handwashing should be done any time the gear stops repelling water effectively. Treating latex gaskets and waterproof zippers should be done every four to six weeks, regardless of use.