Reviving Wet Weather Gear
by Warrior Publications, Oct 27, 2015
Living on the Northwest Coast, rain and wet weather are a constant concern. Over time, even the best waterproof jackets and pants can begin to “wet out,” meaning that the durable water repellant (DWR) treatment put on in the factory begins to wear down. Instead of water beading on the surface of the garment, it instead becomes saturated and water begins to leak through. Even expensive rain gear with Goretex can wet out over time.
With fall now upon us in the northern hemisphere, it seems like a good time to look at ways to revive wet weather gear and prolong their usefulness. As an example, I once had a Misty Mountain nylon rain jacket for nearly ten years. This was a moderately priced jacket with a thin nylon shell that packed into one of its own pockets, costing around $45. After 3 years or so, it began to wet out on me. I started looking around for a replacement but wasn’t impressed with my options for new jackets, or the prospect of paying another $50 or so for a new one. I found a spray-on water proofer that revitalized the DWR on the jacket and I was good to go for another rainy fall and winter. I’d still be using this jacket today except that wear and tear eventually took it’s toll, although its water repellancy was still pretty good.
So how do you revive the DWR on jackets and pants? One simple method you can try is throwing the jacket and/or pants in a dryer on a medium heat setting for half an hour or so. The heat may revive a DWR treatment, and you can test it by pouring a small amount of water on the surface. If it beads up and runs off, the DWR is working. If it soaks into the surface however, then it’s wetting out and the garment(s) will need to be re-treated with a DWR coating.
Using DWR Treatments
There are two main ways that DWR can be re-applied, one is using a spray-on chemical, and the other is a wash-in version. There are also special DWR revitalizers designed specifically for Goretex, although any nylon shell can be treated with the basic versions even if it has Goretex. You can also use these on tents, ponchos, packs, etc.
Prior to treating your garment(s), they need to be clean. If they are dirty and caked with mud, this will limit the ability of the DWR to penetrate and adhere. Wash them, preferably without liquid detergents or fabric softeners. As a side note, when you get a new rain jacket, or after you’ve re-treated one, you’ll want to avoid regular washing as this will remove the DWR. If there’s some dirt or grime on the garment, wipe it off with a wet rag if possible.
The most basic method of re-applying DWR is the spray-on method. These are usually aerosol cans and the garment(s) are sprayed when they are clean and dry (although always check the instructions). I’ve used Atsko’s Silicone Water Guard with good results, but there are many others. In an outdoor area, apply an even coat over the garment(s) making sure they are saturated, and then concentrate a bit more on the shoulder, back, and upper legs (if doing pants), as well as seams. Let the garment(s) hang dry in a covered, outdoor area. The DWR should now be restored.
Another version of the spray-on method requires the garment(s) to be wet. This is the case with Revivex, a spray-on water repellent made by McNett that is also recommended for Goretex garments. After spraying the garment(s), throw them in a dryer. A small 148ml (5 ounces) bottle costs about $10 and can treat up to 2 garments, which should be enough for one year (re-apply when the rainy season returns).
I’ve never tried wash-in DWR treatments as they seem like a bit more of a hassle. To use a wash-in treatment you start a wash cycle with your garments in the machine and then add the DWR. Nikwax makes wash-in versions, as well as spray-on and waterproofing for a variety of other materials (including leather boots, fleece, down-filled garments, etc).
If you’d prefer waterproof garments without the chemicals, you might consider waxed cotton, sometimes referred to as oilskin. While cotton is one of the worst materials for wet weather (cotton soaks in water and takes a long time to dry), cotton canvas treated with wax is an old water-proofing method first used by sailors who took damaged sails and waxed them to make waterproof garments (it was also applied to sails to make them waterproof). Along with rain gear, waxed cotton is also used for canvas packs, tents, hats, etc.
Waxed cotton materials should not be washed with soap in a washing machine as this will strip the material of its wax. It is recommended that waxed garments be hand-washed in cold water, or sprayed with a hose.
The advantage of waxed cotton is that you can carry beeswax, for example (which has many other uses), and while in the field still revitalize the water proofing on your garments.
Waxing requires melting the wax in a double-boiler until it becomes liquid, then coating the garment and rubbing the wax in. It can take a day or more for the wax to fully dry and absorb in. Waxed cotton clothing usually requires re-applying the wax once a year (before the rainy season begins). Although paraffin wax was originally used, there are now many manufacturers and brands of wax waterproofing, including Otter Wax, Barbour (who also make waxed cotton clothing), British Millerrain Ltd, and others. People are also making their own wax with mixtures of beeswax and linseed oil, for example.
Lifehacker.com has a simple method used for applying a homemade mix of paraffin and beeswax wax to a canvas bag, but it can also be used on garments: “The process itself is pretty easy. You need two pots, a mixture of paraffin and bee’s wax, and a brush. Boil a bit of water in one pot, then place the other pot inside it with the wax and wait for it to melt. Then coat the bag with the wax using the brush. Once you’re satisfied you covered the bag, let it dry, toss it into an old pillowcase, and then put it in the dryer for 15 minutes to 30 minutes.”
You can use this same method with SnoSeal, a waterproofing cream containing beeswax that is designed primarily for boots but is used by some as a re-waxing compound for waxed cotton garments.
Traditionally, people on the Pacific Northwest Coast used cedar bark for hats, cloaks, and skirts. Lightweight and naturally rot-resistant, cedar bark is also water proof and makes excellent wet weather gear. Hats, which came in many styles, could also be broad to cover the head and shoulders for added waterproofing. Spruce root was also used to make hats, the weave for which needed to be tight enough to stop water penetrating. Collecting and processing cedar bark is labour intensive. Here are some images to show how cedar bark was used for clothing items.