Caring for your Outer Layer – Foul Weather Gear
Foul weather gear is a big investment and the more performance oriented the gear is, the bigger the investment as products use high-end materials to maximize weather-proofing and breathability. Whitecaps Marine Outfitters want to make sure you get the best life out of your gear. In short, no matter if you have Henri Lloyd Elite Offshore gear or a basic waterproof jacket, there are a few simple things you can do to get the best useful life before the inevitable separation of the fabric layers (de-lamination) occurs.
Shortcutting to the finish:
- Remove the salt residue by rinsing in cold fresh water as frequently as possible (we do it after every weekend on the water)
- Periodically wash in a mild soapy cold water – use kitchen dish soap and NOT washing detergent. Rinse thoroughly after washing.
- Always hang to drip dry in a cool, shady place.
Okay, there are a few more parts to each step but those are the basics for the impatient people, like myself.
To break down each step in a little more detail there are some things about modern foul weather gear that can help to make sense of the steps.
Foulies today consist of a number of layered fabrics each possessing a particular quality. These are essentially glued together and the outer (face) layer is either coated or treated with a durable water repellent (DWR). How the fabrics are laminated, treated and assembled into the finished garment is a key differentiator of brands and quality. In general, you do get what you pay for and brands such as Gore-Tex® have very stringent protocols and standards that must be met throughout the design and assembly process.
Foul weather garments eventually deteriorate through a loss of the water repellent coating as well as fabric de-lamination that will occur over time. Proper care will help you to get the longest life of peak performance.
Remove the salt residue - no kidding Sherlock!
Salt water is an abrasive and corrosive substance. Even if you don’t get wet, a thin layer of salt builds up on your outer gear in a short period of time. It may seem dry, but salt is a desiccant – that is, it absorbs water from the air. So dry salt on your gear quickly become a sticky, concentrated salt water. As often as practical, you should rinse your gear in cold water, even just a quick hose off in the shower, making sure you “work” zippers and press-studs. Also, remember to take out your hood too. Ideally though, a thorough immersion in fresh water with minor agitation is best. That is, dunk your foulies in the laundry sink or bath tub full of water and move them around a bit. This will help to dislodge the salt and dissolve it in the water.
Periodically use soapy water – even for fresh water boaters.
A little care and restraint is recommended. Use a very low mix of cold soapy water - barely enough soap to create suds on the surface. Use a liquid kitchen dish soap with the minimal amount of ‘chemicals’. The main aim is to break down any oils and grime that isn’t being washed away through regular rinsing. Diesel and other oils can accumulate on the surface. These are harmful to your gear, especially the water resistant coating. The catch though, is that soap can also wash away the face-layer DWR, which is why it is important that very little soap is used.
Similar to rinsing, gentle agitation in the soap-mix will help to beak down the grime and move it away from the material. Keep pockets closed if possible, especially when there is a fleece or similar lining.
Kitchen dish soap is made for immersing your hands in. It is gentle and generally does not contain bleach. Laundry machine detergents almost always contain a bleach. They also often contain water softeners, foam stabilizers and even corrosive inhibitors to help extend the life of your washing machine. Bleach and some of the other chemicals in laundry detergent can degrade the fabric lamination.
There are two main process to laminate the materials used in marine foul weather gear. Solvent lamination and hot-melt. Solvent lamination uses a solvent to liquefy the materials surface and fuses the layers together with the application of high pressure. This forms a bonded layer that is able to withstand high wash and rinse cycles and is less sensitive to body and environmental temperature. Hot-melt lamination is done through the application of a hot-melt glue sandwiched between the layers. Heat and pressure is then applied to melt and hold the glued surfaces. Hot-melt is not as durable as solvent lamination and is more susceptible to environmental, including body, heat. Both solvent lamination and hot-melt are susceptible to bleach.
For very stubborn stains, you can use a wash-in cleaner made specifically for waterproof garments such as these made by Henri Lloyd and Gill:
Drip dry in a cool, shady place – not the bottom of your gear-bag
After rinsing or washing your foul weather gear, it is important to completely dry them before folding them and putting them away in a gear bag or drawer. This will prevent mold and extend the life of your gear.
The most important consideration is that your gear should be dried in a cool, shady place. After all, foul weather gear is designed to perform in cold, wet and generally unpleasant weather. Hanging your gear in the full sun on a summers’ day can promote de-lamination at a surprisingly quick rate.
Consider this, a lot of gear uses the hot-melt lamination process. The heat used in the process is around 185F. That is less than a cup of hot coffee. De-lamination can start to occur at this point. Even your body temperature can accelerate de-lamination through prolonged, sustained perspiration like on a warm day. So keep clear of dryers, irons or other heat-sourced drying methods.
The best drying conditions is hanging under a cover with a gentle breeze over the gear to aid the drying process. I hang my gear on the back of a door leaving the window open. An open hatch would work just as well when on-board.
Reapply the protective DWR coating – getting wet in your gear.
Per the manufacturers directions, should you find that your gear’s DWR coating is wearing off and water is beginning to penetrate your gear, you can recoat your garment with a DWR. These are available from Whitecaps Marine Outfitters.
So that is the short and long of it. Simple maintenance of your foul weather gear will help you to get a lot of use out of it. Also, by knowing a bit about what can cause your gear to fail should help you to avoid those situations. Keeping you dry in foul weather is what the gear is made to do.