Cleaners & Proofers - Caring for your Kit

Always, always, always follow the care instructions on the label of your garment / footwear / shiny bits of kit.   There is no point in shelling out loads of your hard earned cash if you don't look after it properly.  Proper care of your kit is essential if you want a long and happy relationship together.  See below for some pointers ....  but please remember these are to be used as a guide only, and it is essential to read the manufacturer's instructions before stuffing your top-of-the-range, state-of-the-art, only-one-of-its-kind sleeping bag into your washing machine......
 
Beading nicely!
Beading nicely!

WATERPROOFS
Body grease (sweat), dirt and oils will, over time, accumulate on the inside of your waterproofs, particularly round the neck, cuffs, hood and ankles - which will ultimately reduce both the breathability and waterproof-ness of your garments.

Membrane fabrics (such as your waterproof jacket and trousers) work by letting water vapour, but not liquid, to pass through the fabric.  If you are wearing synthetic fabrics under your waterproofs, these will wick perspiration away from your body and then evaporate.  This evaporated water (vapour) then passes through the breathable membrane (air porous permeable layer).  Water molecules on the outside are too large to pass through porous membrane, thus making it waterproof.

Waterproof fabrics will usually have a DWR (Durable Water Repellancy) coating on the outside, to ensure any water on the surface of the jacket will bead and roll off.  As this coating wears away over time, the jacket will start to 'wet out' - no longer causing the water to bead, and looking distinctly soggy.   The jacket is still waterproof, but as a result of the wetting out, the membrane on the inside can no longer breathe.  Evaporated moisture inside then has nowhere to go, so condenses on the inside of the jacket, leading the wearer to believe the garment is leaking.  The dirt, grease and oils mentioned above also serve to block the pores of the membrane, exacerbating the condensation problem.

So what's to do?:  

  • It is essential to read the care instructions on your garment before you try to wash it. 
  • Remove any detergent residue from your washing machine.  If necessary take the whole drawer out and run it under the tap.
  • Fill the drawer or washing ball with the right amount of pure soap flakes or dedicated cleaning product for the number of garments you are washing, as per the bottle's instructions, and wash on a low (30 deg C heat).
  • Depending on the product you have used (there are 2-in-1 cleaner and reproofers available), you can then tumble dry the garment on a very low heat to re-activate the DWR, or spray it with a reproofer before tumble drying.
  • eVENT waterproofs must not be tumble dried (instead hang the garment up, let it drip dry and then rejeuvenate the DWR with an iron on a low heat).
  • You can test whether this has worked properly by splashing some water onto the garment once dried.  If it beads up nicely, you've done a good job!
Soft shells (both membrane and non membrane) are treated the same way as hard shell when it comes to washing and re-proofing.  Do read the care label for any special instructions.

BASE LAYERS
You can just throw these into your machine with all your other regular washing, provided it's not a hot wash, as they will shrink!  However, their performance may be impaired and the garments may start to smell quickly once used.  Either wash in soap flakes or a dedicated base layer cleaner in a 30 degree C wash, which will help to maintain their breathability, wicking ability and anti-odour performance.  Again, do check the care label for any specific instructions.

BOOTS
Look after your feet before you even put them in your boots!  Closely trimmed toenails can keep your toes safe from an unexpected bash on a rock, but more importantly from damaging any inner liner the boot has.

If your boots get hideously wet, or even just fairly damp after a boggy yomp in the hills, loosen the laces, pull out the insole and stuff with scrunched up balls of newspaper to soak up the water.  Then leave them to dry slowly, so that the leather is not damaged.  If the boots are extremely wet, you might want to remove the soggy newspaper after 12-24 hours, and restuff with more dry paper.  Never leave wet boots near a radiator or other heat source to dry.  Leather that has dried too quickly will crack - and then you have a pair of leaky boots to add to the misery of your next bog trot .....

What's to do ...?
To clean and reproof your boots - whether they be leather or fabric .... brush off any excess dirt using a damp cloth.  You could rinse them inside and out with soapy water if they are truly filthy.  Reproof if necessary with a dedicated product whilst the boots are still wet, wiping away any surplus product after a couple of minutes with a clean cloth.  If the boots are wet inside, stuff with newspaper, as above and leave to dry naturally.

 
Clean and smelling sweet!
Clean and smelling sweet!

SLEEPING BAGS
Never store your sleeping bag in its compression sack between trips.  If possible, hang it up somewhere, or put in a much larger bag to allow it to loft properly (expand to its full size).  If you keep a sleeping bag compressed, whether it is filled with down or a synthetic insulation, you will damage it, and it will neither last as long, nor be as warm as it should. 

Air your sleeping bag after use, unzipping it fully and laying it over a washing line or clotheshorse.  This will allow it to dry fully, and prevent any unpleasant smells developing.  If you use a silk, cotton or fleece liner in your bag, this will also help, as it will protect it from your own body oils and sweat.  It will provide you with an extra layer of warmth - and is much easier to wash!

So what's to do?:
A synthetic insulated sleeping bag is easy.  Machine wash with pure soap flakes on a gentle cycle and tumble dry on a cool setting.  Pop a couple of tennis balls into the tumble drier to knock out any clumps of damp insulation - which will cause cold spots next time you use it if you don't get rid of them.  As always, please read the manufacturer's instructions before washing.

For a down sleeping bag, you can use a specific down cleaning product.  You can also use these on synthetic insulation.  To clean and dry it:

  • Clean out the detergent drawer to ensure there is no residue from detergents or fabric softeners in the machine.
  • Place the sleeping bag into the machine and wash on a 30 degree C cycle.
  • Once washed, place the sleeping bag into the tumble drier on a cool heat to rejuvenate the down, and restore the DWR finish.  Pop a couple of tennis balls in the drier too, to knock out any clumps of feathers.
  • Leave the dried bag somewhere warm for a couple of days to finish drying completely, giving it a shake every now and then to loosen any remaining clumps.
If you cannot physically get your sleeping bag into your machine, do not force it in - take it to a professional down cleaner.

INSULATED GARMENTS
  • Much the same as with the sleeping bags above - again checking the care label before you proceed.
  • Do not store in a stuff sack, instead store on a hanger, or at least hung up on a peg.
  • Wash as above, with specific down cleaner products on a 30 degree C cycle.
  • Tumble dry cool, with tennis balls in the drier, to ensure there are no remaining clumps of feathers or insulation, and to reactivate the DWR finish.
TENTS
  • When pitching your tent, look out for sharp rocks and objects that could pierce or damage the groundsheet. 
  • It is always a good idea, when you return home from your trip, even if it is dry when you strike camp, to unpack your tent and let it air.  Drape it over a washing line or clotheshorse (or even a line of chairs) to ensure it is totally dry before packing away.
  • Pitch the tent in the garden every now and then on a rainy day to look for any seam drip, which can then be sorted out with a tube of seam sealant.
  • If you have lost any pegs / notice any seam drips or anything else that is causing concern, sort it out as soon as possible once you get back from your trip.  Otherwise you are bound to forget - until the next time you are sat in your tent, in a howling gale and the pouring rain .......

 
If you are an individual who loves the great outdoors and would like to support our projects, please click the donate button below. During 2017, all money donated will fund tree planting in Nepal as part of our 2 Million Tree Project.
We are hugely grateful for the support of the European Outdoor Conservation Association, without whose support we could never have realised such an ambitious project.
Hugo Tagholm, Surfers Against Sewage