I have a bunch of dirty hard-shell pants and jackets. Are these safe to put in the washer and dryer? If not, how should I clean them?
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When washing rain coats and fleeces I use Nikwax tech wash and reproofer (millets link), on the bottle these say reconmended for Goretex so I assume it's the same. In general with waterproof clothing do not use normal washing powders as these remove the waterproof coating.
All Gore-Tex products come with care instruction, these should be followed, obviously.
It's important to understand how these membranes work, I feel. Many Gore-tex and similar products consist of 3 layers,
The Gore tex itself is a physical barrier. It consists of a fabric barrier that's full of microscopic holes. These holes allow water vapour out of the fabric but are so small they prevent liquid water from entering the fabric, for this to work effectivly the inside of the layer must be warmer than the outside.
Ware and tear will eventually make these holes larger, thus preventing them from working effectively. The outer layers are designed to prevent this. I had a gore tex jacket for around 10 years and never looked after it too well, this layer still worked.
Fabric softeners, etc. can bloke these tiny holes, which is why they're not recommended.
The most important part of this layer is the chemical treatment of it (DWR). This treatment basically produces lots of microscopic "spikes". The idea of these spikes is that it holds the water on the outside of the fabric above the Goretex layer. This is what produces the beading effect. This prevents the holes from getting blocked and also stops the layer from getting cooled (thus stopping the inside from being warmer than the outside and slowing down the breathability of the fabric).
Eventually these "spikes" wear down. Imagine a nail getting filled down (by other fabrics, etc.) but at a microscopic level....
Heating the fabric (in a tumble drier) will allow the chemicals to "reform". A rep once actually said to me that regular tumble drying can actually improve the performance of the fabric!!
Eventually the chemical layer will wear off completly. It's at this point that you need to re-apply using spray's, etc. In my experience a spray is the best, the wash in ones don't seem to work too well.
The most important thing is the tumble drying. Line drying won't produce the heat required to rebind the chemical layers
This is the most simple layer. It's main job is to protect the goretex layer and provide a physical barrier between the goretex and the inner (non goretex) layers.
You shouldn't really get the DWR on this layer, it's job is to allow the moisture though to the Gortex. This is the main reason why I don't like "wash-in" treatments as the DWR is applied indiscriminately, with a spray you can apply it to the outer only, where it should be
I trust Arc'teryx: http://www.arcteryx.com/product-care.aspx?EN There's a video to take you through the whole process.
And you actually DO want to use the dryer because the heat reactivates the durable water repellant (DWR). DWR is the actual substance/layer that does the water repelling.
You can also follow the instructions recommended on the actual GoreTex site: https://www.gore-tex.com/remote/Satellite/content/care-center/washing-instructions
As long as you are washing with a front-loader, then putting in your water-proofs and washing on a low temperature with reproofer (instructions should be on the bottle) will get your get clean and waterproof.
Top-loaders batter the hell out of your clothes, and can damage the waterproofing.
Also - do not but them in a dryer... hang them out (you probably want to do this over a bath if you can't do it outside)