Softshell jackets are a fantastic third layer when going cross-country skiing. But many people shy away from washing their softshells for fear of ruining the garment’s breathability and water repellency. The fact is: the material can suffer if you don’t take care of it properly, but much worse is not to clean your softshell jacket at all.
If you follow some basic tips on how to clean your softshell jacket, it won’t lose its waterproof ability. Plus, you will significantly increase its lifespan.
Why is it essential to wash a softshell jacket?
Softshells often have a porous membrane which can become clogged when intensively used. Sweat residue, make-up, and sun cream get stuck in the pores and hamper the fabric’s breathability. Also, skin lipids and fine salt crystals can damage the membrane permanently. That’s the reason why you should wash softshell fabrics regularly.
How to wash your softshell jacket properly?
Throwing your softshell jacket into the washing machine won’t do any harm as long as you follow the care instructions. So, first things first: Look at the instructions of the care tag in your jacket. They give you reliable recommendations from the manufacturer, taking into account all the materials of your jacket. Also, this is the only place where you can find the appropriate washing temperatures, drying, and ironing instructions.
Second, when washing softshells is critical to use only suitable laundry detergent. In principle, any fabric-specific technical detergent is fine, such as Nikwax or Granger’s. These detergents are concentrated and particularly gentle on sensitive materials such as membranes or adhesives, as they only contain the detergent substances really needed.
If you don’t have a technical detergent for waterproof-breathable garments, try an organic liquid detergent. Just make sure it doesn’t leave any residue and completely rinses. NEVER use any powder laundry detergents, fabric softener, or bleach when washing your softshell clothing.
How to wash your softshell jacket step by step
- Read the washing instructions
- Empty all bags
- Close all zippers, velcro closures and pockets as well as cords; this reduces wear and tear
- Only fill the machine halfway to ensure proper rinsing
- Set the washing machine to the delicate or gentle cycle and use warm water
- Add a technical detergent as outlined above (don’t use washing powder, any fabric softener, or bleaching agent)
- Note the dosage of the detergent (see manufacturer’s instructions); often, it is one cap per garment, maybe more if you live in an area with hard water
- Allow the machine to run and rinse completely so that the detergent is adequately removed
- A second rinse cycle might be necessary for larger loads or when washing heavily soiled laundry
- After the washing machine has stopped, take off the jacket and hang to dry or dry it in the dryer if allowed. This will restore the DWR (durable water repellent finish) as well as the breathability of the garment.
- In case you want to hang to dry your softshell jacket, let it drip off in the shower first. Make sure that it doesn’t get too much direct sunlight or excessive heat.
If you need to clean soil from your jacket’s collar, pour undiluted liquid laundry detergent directly onto the stained area. Then let the detergent soak into the collar for at least 30 minutes and wash as explained above.
Also, keep in mind that you don’t need to clean out your washing machine after using a technical detergent. It will rinse out with the water.
How to waterproof your softshell jacket?
Over time, softshell jackets can lose their water-repellency. Unfortunately, waterproofing doesn’t last forever.
If you notice that your jacket is starting to soak up water again after washing and drying it, then most likely, the DWR has worn off.
Most DWRs, especially on softshells, are hydrophobic fabric treatments that resist fabric saturation but wear off over time. Then it’s time to give your jacket some special treatment to get back the DWR and restore its water repellency.
There are two ways to do this, either by washing in or spraying on a softshell waterproofing agent. Again, you can choose between different manufacturers such as Nikwax, McNett / Revivex, and Grangers, and most of them are easy to use and effective.
1. Instructions for wash-in application
Before using any waterproofing agent, make sure that the garment has been washed adequately with a technical detergent. Often, it’s dirt and crud that are covering the water-repellent coating, and that make your jacket soak up water. Then proceed as follows:
- Place the jacket in the washing machine and fill with warm water
- Add the waterproofing agent (read the product instructions for the right amount)
- Run the washing machine if possible with lower water levels
- Air dry or tumble dry on the lowest level
Keep in mind to always follow the manufacturer’s instructions as to whether your jacket can be tumble dried. Not every garment with DWR finish may be dried. In that case, I recommend using Nikwax because it doesn’t require heat for activation.
2. Instructions for a spray-on waterproof application
Usually, you can clean your jacket with a tech detergent 3-5 times before needing to direct waterproofing it again. Here are the steps to waterproof your softshell jacket with the spray-on application:
- Hang the clean jacket, preferably outside
- Keep the bottle about 6-inches from the fabric and spray evenly
- Wait a few minutes and remove any excess drips
- Hang to dry the jacket
It may also be a good idea to use a combination of washing-in and spraying applications. For example, you do the wash-in only once or twice per season. But whenever you detect some leaks at seams or at areas where you usually get wet, use the spray to treat the affected area.
How to clean softshell garments with fluorocarbon-free DWR?
Some garments are treated with a fluorocarbon-free DWR. Fluorohydrocarbons are often used to waterproof textiles and to protect against dirt. The disadvantage is that these chemicals also some less desirable properties, e.g., they are degraded very slowly in the environment.
Garments with fluorocarbon-free DWR (PFC Free DWR) need to be waterproofed a little more often. They must be re-impregnated with a fluorocarbon-free impregnation after approximately every second wash. But it’s worth it in terms of the environment.
I recommend that you use a spray-on waterproof application and not the wash-in type. Spraying you usually use less impregnation, and no unnecessary chemicals are washed out with the wastewater. It might also be sufficient to spray only the exposed surfaces, such as shoulders and sleeves.
To a certain extent, you may also be able to reactivate the waterproof properties with heat using a tumble dryer or an iron on low heat. However, make sure that the care tag allows such treatment.
How to clean softshell with merino wool
Softshell is now available with an inner layer of merino wool. If you have read any of my other posts about the cross-country skiing clothing, you know that I am a big fan of merino wool.
However, when washing a softshell jacket with a merino layer, you need to take a few things into account. First, it is crucial to choose the right detergent. Instead of using a tech agent, I recommend using a wool-specific gentle, liquid detergent without protease, as merino wool is sensitive to regular detergents’ high pH levels.
For drying, it’s better to lay softshell clothing with a wool content flat on clothes rack. You can also hang to dry it but better not to tumble dry it.
Again, never use a fabric softener or bleach. That will destroy not only the softshell properties but also the merino fibers. They will lose their natural ability to breathe and regulate moisture and temperature.
Some more tips for taking care of your softshell jacket
- When you are not wearing it, keep your jacket on a coat hanger in a dry, airy place.
- If it gets wet, make sure it dries out properly before hanging it up and putting it away.
- If the face material is dirty, it is sometimes enough to wipe it with a damp cloth. Or brush off loose dirt with a clothes brush!
I a nutshell, a softshell jacket that is well taken care of feels better, protects you better and lasts longer. So make sure that you keep it clean and wash it appropriately by taking into account its specific care instructions.