How to Wash a Rain Jacket: How to Clean and Waterproof a Raincoat

Whether you’re an avid outdoor enthusiast or an average weekend warrior, a key item to always have in your wardrobe is a rain jacket. A good quality rain jacket can turn a stay-inside-day into another day you can enjoy the outdoors; and for long distance hikers, a high quality rain jacket can help keep you going even when the weather may not be in your favor. No matter the situation, it’s also essential that your rain jacket be functioning at its fullest potential. But over time, their performance can be hindered by dirt, laundry detergent, oil from your skin and sunscreen, and other contaminants that soak into the outer layer of the jacket, interfering with the jacket’s moisture resistance. Over time, you’ll begin to notice that rain no longer beads up on the outside of the jacket, and instead seems to soak into the fabric. This is called “wetting out” and it’s no fun.

But do not fret; your rain jacket has not reached the end of its life yet. Wetting out is an indication that it’s time to wash and treat your rain gear (but with the proper products) so that your rain jacket can go back to repelling water instead of collecting it. While this may seem intimidating, learning how to wash a rain jacket properly is easy, you just need the right tools. But before we get into the details of how to wash a rain jacket, let’s take a step back and learn just how your rain jacket works.

How to Wash a Rain Jacket

If you are only washing your raincoat, use a technical wash like Nikwax Tech Wash. This is great if your waterproof jacket is still repelling water but needs a good wash. Follow steps 1-4 below.

  1. Read the washing instructions on the tag or on the manufacturer’s website. Follow those instructions first if they differ from the following:
  2. Use the recommended dosage of Tech Wash, but don’t add any fabric softener, bleach, or powder detergent (these can damange the membrane/middle layer).
  3. Zip up all pockets and zippers, close all clasps, and empty all the pockets. Load into the machine.
  4. Wash on the delicates cycle. If the soap isn’t completely rinsed out, consider running a rinse cycle without adding any more Tech Wash.
  5. Use the recommended dosage of Wash-In DWR and put it into your laundry machine soap dispenser. Use the recommended temperature settings (usually low-warm) and run another gentle cycle. If you’re using Spray-On DWR, see next section.
  6. Either air dry or tumble dry low depending on what your clothing label recommends.
  7. Store your gear once it’s completely dry and no earlier. Moist rain gear leads to mildew and mold build up in the creases.
  8. Get back outside.

As for DWR, there are two ways to apply the product: a wash-in such as Nikwax TX Direct Wash-In or a spray on DWR like Nikwax TX Direct Spray-On. Because it’s easy and effective, we use the wash-in for rain shells and pants. However, if you are washing a multi-layer garment like a down-lined or fleece raincoat, you should use the spray-on treatment.

Spray-On Steps

If your jacket or rain gear has down or fleece insulation, the process of washing and reapplying DWR is slightly different. It’s important to read the wash instructions on your apparel and follow those directions.

For down-lined rain gear, you’ll start out by using down wash and following the label’s cleaning directions. Next, find a flat surface and cover it with something to protect it, such as a plastic bag or piece of cardboard. Spray the garment while holding the bottle about six inches away, making sure you spray evenly and don’t miss any spots. Dab away the residual product with a damp cloth and tumble dry low (if the care label allows).

There’s also Down Proof that you can use instead of Spray-On DWR, which ensures that your shell and the feathers inside get a reapplication of DWR. However, for high quality down fabrics, we recommend still using the spray-on DWR.

For fleece-lined rain gear, follow steps 1-4 above. With this material, there’s no need to dry before re-applying DWR so just find a flat surface and protect it with cardboard or a plastic bag so you don’t harm the surface. Lay your clothing flat and spray the clothing while holding the bottle about 6 inches away from the fabric. Evenly spray the outside of the garment, wait two minutes, then dab away any residual product with a damp cloth. Either tumble dry low or air dry based on the care tag on the item of clothing.

How Often to Wash Your Raincoat

In all honesty, most people probably don’t wash their raincoats as much as they should. Part of this stems from the scare of losing your waterproofing, but some also comes from the complexity of washing – it’s not just as simple as sticking it in the wash machine and drying on low heat. While there is a process that needs to be followed, it’s quite simple and can easily bring your rain gear back to life.

Here are a few guidelines you can use to tell when it’s time to wash:

  • You’re “wetting out.” This is the ultimate sign that you need to wash and treat your gear. If you’re at this point, it’s essential that you wash the jacket and reapply DWR before next use.
  • If you wear your rain gear during exerting activities such as jogging or hiking, wash after 10-15 uses because sweat builds up much quicker under these circumstances.
  • If you wear your rain gear casually, wash after 20-30 normal uses or once a month.

A Brief History

Breathable yet waterproof was first introduced into the outdoors gear market back in the 1970s, and has since grown significantly in popularity. Gore-Tex® was the first producer, but since then pretty much every clothing maker and outdoor outfitter has their own line of waterproof clothing. While some people refer to this category of clothing as Gore-Tex®, not all rain jackets are Gore-Tex®, just like how not all coffee is Starbucks.

Fabric Composition

Most waterproof clothing is made up of three layers: an outer, middle and inner layer each with its own function.

The outer layer, commonly referred to as face fabric, is usually made of nylon or polyester and is designed to look good, repel, and protect. While this layer isn’t waterproof, it’s commonly treated with durable water repellent (DWR), which is a chemical bond that helps water bead up and run off your jacket.

The middle layer is a waterproof/breathable membrane, which is full of microscopic holes/pores that are small enough to let water vapor (your sweat and condensation) escape while keeping out liquid water (rain) from passing through. This is usually accomplished with Teflon or polyurethane materials.

The inner layer is a tri-coat mesh, which protects the middle layer from sweat and grime while making it more comfortable against your skin.

For a jacket to be 100% waterproof, it will need to have taped seams. These are heat-treated seams that stop water from coming in through the stitching. This feature is particularly important if you will be in heavy or prolonged rain.

Some jackets can be two-layered, 3-in-1 (not to be confused with three layer jackets) and pakkas.

Waterproof Ratings Explained

Commonly you’ll see jackets with ratings in millimeters (mm) or grams (g). But what do these numbers mean?

RatingResistanceWeather
 0 – 1,500mmWater resistant / SnowproofVery light  rain
 1,500mm – 5,000mmWaterproofLight to average rain
 5,000mm – 10,000mmVery WaterproofModerate to heavy rain
 10,000mm- 20,000mmHighly WaterproofHeavy rain

For everyday use, such as walking the dog or going around town, a rating of 1000m-2000mm is suitable. This rating would also be acceptable for hikers and walkers who aren’t likely to get caught in heavy, sustained rain.

For a serious trek in bad conditions or a variety of conditions at home, we recommend a rating of 5000-10,000mm.

Anything higher than 10,000 is considered extreme weatherproofing and is ideal for extremely wet conditions.

These numbers are usually determined by the manufacturer either in house or by a hired third party. If you’re really getting into ratings, there are also breathability ratings that you can take into consideration. As a general rule of thumb, the higher the grams of water vapor that pass through, the greater the breathability.

“Wetting Out”

Over time, the chemical bond in DWR wears down and eventually your jacket will fully “wet out.” However, the main problem is not the rain getting into the jacket, it’s the sweat and condensation not being able to get out. When the outer layer is soaked through, the middle layer can’t breathe. And when your body’s moisture can’t escape, you get soaked from the inside out due to sweat and condensation. This is why it’s important to wash your rain gear with the proper products, as well as maintain the DWR outer layer.

Let’s Review

Sometimes caring for your raincoats can slip under the radar, but it’s important to maintain a good layer of DWR to prevent wetting out. In fact, writing this article has reminded me that I need to treat our rain gear sooner rather than later! But seriously, regularly wash your waterproof garments to prevent wetting out, as well as to keep them clean. Make sure that you follow the instructions on the care label when washing and drying, and happy hiking!

FAQs

Can I put my rain jacket in the washing machine?

Yes, you can put your rain jacket in the washing machine. But first, check the care instructions on the label. Many rain jackets are machine-washable, but some require that you hand wash them. If your jacket is machine-washable, use a technical wash like Nikwax Tech Wash to clean it and help preserve its waterproofing. Never put a wet or damp jacket in the dryer—this will damage the fabric and reduce the jacket’s lifespan. Instead, let it air dry.

How do you wash a waterproof jacket?

Use a technical wash like Nikwax Tech Wash. This is a cleaner that has been specifically designed to clean waterproof gear without damaging the Durable Water Repellent (DWR) finish. It’s important that you don’t use regular detergents or fabric softeners, as these can leave a build-up of residues which will reduce the effectiveness of the DWR finish.
If your jacket starts to look wet and shiny after being worn in the rain, it’s likely that the DWR finish has started to wear off. In this case, you can restore its water repellency by using a product like Nikwax TX.Direct Wash-In, which will re-coat the fabric with water repellent.

Is it okay to wash a raincoat?

Of course it’s okay to wash a raincoat! It’s made to keep you dry, so it’s important to clean it regularly to ensure its effectiveness. Washing it will also help to remove any dirt or mud that may have accumulated on it.
Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions for laundering your raincoat, and always use cold water and a specially designed technical wash. Never use regular detergent! Always hang it up to dry or use low heat on a delicate cycle to dry.

How do you clean a smelly raincoat?

It’s important to use a technical wash, like Nikwax Tech Wash, to clean your smelly raincoat. This type of wash is specifically designed for waterproof materials and will help remove all the dirt, sweat, and bacteria that have built up over time. Be sure to follow the instructions carefully, as over-washing can damage your coat’s fabric.

About the Author

Ashley Vitiello

Ashley is an adventurous soul who loves all things nature, especially warm sunshine, hiking, wildflowers, and mushrooms. If she isn’t writing content for Know Nothing Nomads, she’s probably in a forest looking at big mountain views and tiny pieces of moss on the side of the trail.

Hey there!

We are Derek and Ashley of Know Nothing Nomads. Whether it is hiking, camping, or just generally being outside, we love it. We are so happy that you have found our little blog and hope that you stick around a while. Feel free to contact us with any questions or get in touch with us on social media!

Safe Travels,

Derek and Ashley

Know Nothing Nomads