Reproofing Waterproof Gear

After a certain amount of wear, especially in wet weather, you will find that your waterproof jacket or trousers require reproofing. I have in the past been faced with people looking for waterproof outdoor clothing that does not require reproofing at all. Sadly, no such thing exists (if you want it to be at all breathable anyway). I’ll start off by explain why waterproofs require reproofing, and how often. I’ll then move onto instructions for how to wash and reproof waterproof garments using Nikwax; the only wash and reproofing products recommended by Gore-Tex, eVent and The North Face.

Why do Waterproof Garments Need Reproofing?

Modern waterproofs contain either a waterproof membrane or waterproof coating, bonded to, or beneath the outer fabric. This acts as a physical barrier to water for the life of the jacket unless punctured or damaged: so there’s no need to worry about your waterproof jacket springing a leak as a result of normal wear. This is not the part of the garment affected by reproofing.

In addition to the membrane or waterproof coating, on the surface of waterproof fabrics, brands apply a durable water repellent finish, or DWR. This is a hydrophobic chemical treatment that causes water to ‘bead up’ and run off before it can permeate the fabric itself. It is this surface coating that can degrade through repeated wear and washing, and therefore requires a top-up every once in a while in the form of reproofing.

Many of you will be wondering why this is bad when there’s a waterproof membrane under in the fabric anyway? Well, it will cause your jacket to become much heavier, as well as decreasing breathability (water vapour can’t pass through the fabric if it’s saturated with water), and you’ll soon find yourself getting wet from the inside through perspiration. Many people mistake this internal wetness for a leak: it rarely is, normally the jacket can be ‘fixed’ by reproofing. Another downside of a jacket that’s wetting out is that saturated fabric attracts dirt particles, which clog the pores in the waterproof membrane, reducing breathability even after the jacket has dried.


When does a Waterproof Garment Need Reproofing?

The most frequent questions I get asked on the matter of re-proofing are variations on “how long before I need to reproof my waterproof?” The short answer is that there’s no firm answer, as it varies according to the amount of wear, type of wear and conditions that the waterproof item is subjected to. You can tell when it’s time though, as you will begin to notice that your waterproof jacket or trousers are not shedding water as effectively as they did when new, even after washing. Rain will start to soak into the fabric in a process known as wetting out, and when that happens it’s time to take action. I’ll explain how, in the next section.

How to Wash and Reproof Waterproof Garments

The problem of wetting out, and the associated penalty in breathability and comfort, can usually be solved with a good wash, using a detergent designed for technical outdoor clothing such as Nikwax Tech Wash. This is because DWR treatments can be ‘re-activated’ by the heat of the wash as long as they remain on the fabric, and any dirt in/on the fabric is removed. Tech Wash is a gentle, water-based detergent, which will not clog or damage the fabric, unlike some commercial, mass-market detergents. If you’ve not washed your waterproofs before, try washing them according to the guidelines in section 1) Washing, below. If you fail to notice any improvement, or have noticed a degradation in water repellence over multiple washes, follow the steps outlined in section 1) Washing, and then move on to section 2) Reproofing.

1) Washing

  • Clean out any detergent residue from the detergent tray of your washing machine, as this can clog the pores in your waterproof garment in much the same way as dirt. To be doubly sure that your washing machine is in tip-top condition for washing, you can run an empty wash without detergent on a high temperature setting, before washing your waterproofs. This ensures that the inside of the drum is completely free of detergent or dirt.
  • Prepare your waterproof items for washing – loosen all draw chords, do up all zips and Velcro tabs to ensure there’s nothing to catch on the inside of the drum. Any stubborn spots of dirt on the fabric can be treated with neat Tech Wash using a damp cloth, before washing.
  • Place a maximum of two items in the washing machine per wash. This ensures that they can be properly cleaned all over.
  • Wash according to care label instructions. Use 150ml of Nikwax Tech Wash in medium/hard water areas and 100ml in soft water areas (in your detergent tray as usual). All waterproofs should be washed at a temperature no higher than 40 degrees, on a slow spin cycle. Gore-Tex for example recommends a 40-degree wash, as this is the optimum temperature to reactivate the DWR coating.

At this point, if your jacket is repelling surface water effectively without wetting out, then it’s ready to be worn, and does not need reproofing yet. Allow to air dry in a warm, dry place. An airing cupboard or indoors on a clothes hanger is ideal. If it’s still wetting out then proceed to stage 2) Reproofing.

2) Reproofing

  • Place your freshly washed waterproofs in the washing machine (again, only 2 items per wash). As with washing, this ensures that your gear gets a complete coverage of the Nikwax TX Direct reproofer. They do not need to be dry, so if you know you’re going to need to reproof after washing, just leave them in the machine and proceed with the next step.
  • Wash according to care label instructions. All waterproofs should be washed at a temperature no higher than 40 degrees, on a slow spin cycle.
  • Dry your waterproofs. The best method is to tumble dry items on a low heat setting, if allowed on the garment care label. Alternative methods include hanging in an airing cupboard, in full sunshine, or in a warm room. This ensures that the TX Direct proofer bonds well to the fabric, and that it is fully activated.

And with that you should have fully functioning waterproof jacket and/or trousers once again, complete with new DWR!

If, having followed reproofing instructions, you find that your garment is still wetting out, or if it’s just downright leaking, get in contact with the manufacturer or place of sale. Many outdoor brands offer warranties against fault, for example 1 year, 2 year or even lifetime warranties. Please note that garments may need to be sent away for testing in order to claim a repair, replacement or refund through warranty.


Now that you’ve read about waterproof garment care, feel free to follow the link below to shop our excellent range of Waterproofs. Alterantively, to get hold of some Nikwax Tech Wash or TX Direct reproofer, follow the link to Nikwax Cleaning and Reproofing Products below.