If you’re thinking “Why would I need to know how to wash a rain jacket? It gets wet all the time!” then you are not alone. I once thought the same thing. But when I was in Nunavut there was a light drizzle (and I mean light – the arctic is a polar desert), and my iPhone in my pocket was completely water-logged. That was when I learned that a rain jacket isn’t inherently waterproof.
It’s the Durable Water Repellent (DWR) coating that keeps your rain jacket and rain pants waterproof. Over time DWR wears away and your jacket/pants need to be re-waterproofed. The purpose of washing your rain jacket / rain pants is actually to re-waterproof, not just to make it look cleaner. Five years later I’ve learned my lesson and now ensure my rain jacket is washed regularly and good to go. So in this post I’ll go over everything you need to know to wash your rain jacket and rain pants (hint: it’s not the same as regular laundry!)
In the rest of the post I’m going just going to say “rain jacket” but it’s the same process for rain pants as well.
What you will need to wash your rain jacket
Here is everything you will need to wash your rain jacket:
- Technical Wash (i.e. Nikwax Tech Wash)
- Durable Water Repellency (i.e. Nikwax TX.Direct Wash-In or Nikwax TX.Direct Spray-On)
- Washing Machine (preferably front loading)
- Dryer (preferably with a tumble dry setting)
Important Tip: Although these instructions will work for the vast majority of rain jackets, always read the label on your jacket. There might be specific instructions to incorporate into the washing process.
How to Wash a Rain Jacket
The steps below apply to washing standard three-layer rain jackets. If your rain jacket has fleece or down insulation, skip to the bottom of the post for specific instructions.
Step 1: Clean your washing machine’s detergent dispenser
Even small amounts of laundry detergent leave hydrophilic residue on clothing, which can cause them to retain moisture (hydrophilic means water-attracting). Water-attracting is exactly what we don’t want our rain jackets to be!
Step 2: Machine wash on a delicate cycle with Tech Wash
Before putting your rain jacket in the machine, double check there isn’t anything in any of the many pockets on your jacket (I always nearly forget something in the chest pocket). Then zip up all the zippers.
Put a maximum of four rain jackets in the front-loading washing machine (go to a laundry mat or a friend’s house if you only have a top loading machine). Check the label for how much Tech Wash you need and add it to the recently cleaned detergent dispenser.
Important Tip: Don’t ever add in bleach or fabric softener to the load!
Step 3: Machine wash with only water (if needed)
When the wash cycle is done, check if the jacket has been totally rinsed clean. It is possible there is still some Tech Wash residue on the jacket, in which case run the load again on the rinse cycle (but don’t add anymore Tech Wash to the load).
Step 4: Apply Durable Water Repellency to the jacket
Now that the rain jacket is clean, it is time to re-waterproof it. We do this by adding ‘Durable Water Repellency’ or DWR to the jacket.
Remember, these instructions apply if you are using a Wash-In DWR. Check the label of the DWR for how much to use and then add it to the washing machine’s laundry detergent dispenser. Then, check the label again for what temperature setting is recommended (most often low-warm). Finally, wash your rain jacket on the gentle cycle.
Step 5: Air or tumble dry your rain jacket
When the washing cycle is done, either hang up the rain jacket to air dry (this is what I do) or some jackets allow you to machine dry on a low-heat tumble dry setting (check the washing instructions label inside the jacket).
Important Tip: Don’t put your rain jacket into storage until it is completely dry. If you do, mold or mildew can accumulate and, at best, give your jacket an awful smell, or at worst, ruin your jacket.
What if your jacket is insulated with fleece or down?
If you rain jacket is fleece lined
First wash the jacket with Nikwax Tech Wash, following Steps 1-3 from above. Instead of what is mentioned above for step four, do the following.
How to apply a Spray-On DWR
- Lay some cardboard or newspaper down on a low-risk flat surface. By ‘low-risk’ I mean use a surface that you don’t mind accidentally spraying stuff on (i.e. garage floor is a better choice than your mother’s antique dining room table).
- Grab some Nikwax TX.Direct Spray-On and get spraying! Hold the spray bottle a 6-8 inches from the rain jacket and evenly spray.
- Wait a minute or two, and then use a damp hand towel or cloth to dab any excess spray.
- Flip the jacket over and repeat.
Come back to Step 5 for instructions on how to dry.
If your jacket is down lined
Similar to the above, you first need to wash your down jacket. However, instead of using a Tech Wash and following the instructions listed above, head over to my post Here’s How to Safely Wash a Down Jacket. To re-waterproof your jacket, you can do one of two things:
- You can wash your jacket with a Down Proof, as mentioned in the How to Safely Wash a Down Jacket post
- Or you can apply a Spray-On DWR in the outlined in How to apply Spray-On DWR listed above
Check the washing instructions inside your down-lined rain jacket to see if it can be tumble dried. If it can’t you’ll have to air dry it. But if you can, I recommend tumble drying because down dried very slowly.