Life Saving Measures for Performance Wear

©istockphoto/IsaacLKoval

Tak­ing care of your train­ing, play or adven­ture garments—whether worn dai­ly or rarely—is not only sound envi­ron­men­tal­ly (few­er used goods quick­ly end­ing up in the waste stream) but also finan­cial­ly.

Most activewear and out­door appar­el, espe­cial­ly those made with tech­ni­cal fab­rics, are expen­sive. Some of this is a result of R&D, war­ran­ty assur­ances, and per­for­mance design, but some of it is also the increased cost of man­u­fac­tur­ing and then mar­ket­ing (edu­cat­ing con­sumers). Con­sid­er that the next time you look at a price tag and feel like gasp­ing for air. When you con­sid­er what this gear allows you to do and how long much of it lasts—when you care for it properly—it’s a worth­while invest­ment.

Tech­ni­cal fab­rics include spe­cial­ty weaves (syn­thet­ic and nat­ur­al blends), fin­ish­es, coat­ings or imbed­ded treat­ments, and spe­cial­ty con­struc­tion (dif­fer­ent tech­ni­cal fab­rics strate­gi­cal­ly placed through­out the gar­ment). Gar­ments include every­thing from hats, gloves and appar­el to out­er­wear.

The more tech­ni­cal the fab­ric, the more atten­tion and spe­cial care the gar­ment needs. When tech­ni­cal fab­rics get soiled or are rarely laun­dered, the weave can clog up, and lose effi­cien­cy and per­for­mance prop­er­ties. This is espe­cial­ly true of fab­rics treat­ed with coat­ings designed to be breath­able. But the per­for­mance of water­proof, or odor and stain resis­tant fab­rics can also suf­fer from caked on sweat, grit and dirt.

Care for it
Tech­ni­cal fab­rics per­form best when they’re kept clean and odor free. While out­wear does­n’t need to be refreshed as often as cloth­ing, it still needs to be cleaned when it gets dirty, espe­cial­ly if it’s insu­lat­ed with either syn­thet­ic or down (par­tic­u­lar­ly water­proof down) fill.

Breatha­bil­i­ty is the biggest issue of a dirty tech­ni­cal fab­ric gar­ment. That’s because when water, con­den­sa­tion or per­spi­ra­tion con­cen­trate in the fab­ric, it gets trapped rather than wicked away. A clean gar­ment allows mois­ture to evap­o­rate bet­ter and faster.

Out­wear should nev­er be put away dirty. Wipe off dirt if you don’t have time to clean it, and then hang it to dry. This will go a long way to help jack­ets and tech­ni­cal pants main­tain their per­for­mance fea­tures, includ­ing water, wind and odor resis­tance.

Wash it
You don’t need to wash per­for­mance cloth­ing after every use, but at least wash them every cou­ple of uses. Read care instruc­tions on your gar­ments before you pro­ceed. Not all tech­ni­cal fab­ric gar­ments are alike. Some can be washed in a machine; some should be hand washed. Some can be tum­ble dried; some should be line dried. If you can’t find a care label, check the manufacturer’s web­site or call cus­tomer ser­vice. Polar fleece (microfleece), for exam­ple, can be machine washed in cold or warm water, and tum­bled dry, but not with non-fleece items. Plus, you should turn it inside out to reduce pilling.

If you don’t know (or can’t find infor­ma­tion about what deter­gent to use), don’t default to con­ven­tion­al laun­dry deter­gents. These will dam­age or impede many tech­ni­cal fabrics—they typ­i­cal­ly leave residues that can sab­o­tage the per­for­mance char­ac­ter­is­tics (water-repel­len­cy, breatha­bil­i­ty and wick­ing prop­er­ties) of both syn­thet­ic fiber com­pounds and nat­ur­al fab­ric blends. Look for spe­cial­ty deter­gents designed to thor­ough­ly clean your tech­ni­cal appar­el of body oil, sweat and debris. And always thor­ough­ly rinse it after wash­ing to make sure no deter­gent residue remains.

Some untreat­ed syn­thet­ic out­wear can be put through nor­mal laun­der­ing with nor­mal laun­dry deter­gents. Check the label or online instruc­tions. Even so, use pow­dered rather than liq­uid deter­gents. The lat­ter con­tains com­pounds that pen­e­trate fabric—it’s designed to do so. But it also ends up clog­ging the “pores” between tech­ni­cal fibers and will adverse­ly affects breatha­bil­i­ty or water­proof­ness.

Always use the gen­tle set­ting on your wash­er, as well as warm water if the gar­ment is excep­tion­al dirty and stinky (although some fab­rics still call for wash­ing only in cold—if in doubt, go with cold water). Always close zip­pers and fas­ten­ers on gar­ments before wash­ing.

For mild body odor, in addi­tion to the tech­ni­cal wash deter­gent, add a half-cup of bak­ing soda to the rinse cycle. For real­ly stinky clothes and socks, add a half-cup to one cup of vine­gar to the wash to fur­ther help break down oils and extin­guish odor-caus­ing bac­te­ria.

©istockphoto/IsaacLKoval

Pre-Treat it
For stains and odor, you’ll need to add anoth­er step. There are a num­ber of things you can use to effec­tive­ly pre-clean cloth­ing and out­wear. One of the sim­plest and most effec­tive is enzymes. You can often find these as stain and odor clean­ers in the Pet Sec­tion of your local gro­cery or depart­ment store. They’re typ­i­cal­ly com­prised of just water, enzymes and alco­hol, and are excep­tion­al­ly good at dis­solv­ing the fat­ty deposits and bac­te­ria imbed­ded in syn­thet­ic fab­rics and hi-tech nat­ur­al fibers like wool and bam­boo. Fol­low pre-treat­ments with a reg­u­lar wash using a tech­ni­cal spe­cif­ic clean­er.

For real­ly stub­born stains, try mak­ing a paste of bak­ing soda and water and rub­bing it into the stain or odor spots. Let it set for about a half hour before wash­ing. For extra stub­born armpit odors pre-treat that area of your cloth­ing or out­wear with a salt paste (the large soft crys­tals of Kosher salt works best). An even sim­pler method is to soak the items in a tub or util­i­ty sink for a half hour with a few table­spoons of salt mixed in. Salt is a nat­ur­al anti-bac­te­r­i­al and is very effec­tive on syn­thet­ic and nat­ur­al fibers.

Dry it
In most cas­es, after clean­ing, it’s bet­ter to line dry tech­ni­cal cloth­ing or lay it flat on a tow­el to dry. If you must use a dry­er, use the low­est set­ting (air or gen­tle, hand washed cycle).

Restore it
DWR (durable water repel­lent) treat­ments, a poly­mer coat­ing applied to the out­er­most fab­ric lay­er of many water­proofed gar­ments, pen­e­trates the fibers and low­ers the fabric’s sur­face ten­sion. This allows water to bead up and roll off, instead of being absorbed. Impu­ri­ties, how­ev­er, can short­en this treatment’s effi­ca­cy. In addi­tion to reg­u­lar “wear and tear,” expo­sure to grime, insect repel­lants, sun­screen, reg­u­lar wash­ing deter­gent can break­down the coat­ing.

To restore DWR fin­ish­es, wash your gar­ment as described in the wash instruc­tions on the gar­ment tag (or check for clean­ing instruc­tions online with the man­u­fac­tur­er). Line or tum­ble dry it on gen­tle heat cycle. After the gar­ment is dry, tum­ble dry on low heat for 20 min­utes to reac­ti­vate the DWR treat­ment. Alter­na­tive­ly you can iron the dry gar­ment on gen­tle set­ting (warm, no steam), plac­ing a tow­el or cloth between the gar­ment and the iron. The heat from the dri­er or iron will often restore the DWR. If this does not work, then the next step is to apply a new coat­ing to the gar­ment.

Re-Fin­ish it
When the fac­to­ry-applied DWR can no longer be revived after sev­er­al restora­tions, it is pos­si­ble to give your gar­ments and out­wear a new life with wash-in or spray-on water­proof­ing or water repel­lant treat­ments. You’ll know when it’s time because water won’t bead up on it and will sat­u­rate the fab­ric.

Wash-in DWR treat­ments are ide­al for most cloth­ing, hats, gloves and ultra­light out­er­wear. Pump-sprays will pro­duce a bet­ter fin­ish on stiffer more durable out­er­wear gar­ments. Whether it’s a wash-in or a spray on treat­ment, Once it’s washed, dry the gar­ment on a line or on the low­est heat set­ting in your dry­er.

Keep in mind that lined gar­ments treat­ed with DWR re-treat­ments will also result in water-repel­lent lin­ings. This is not nec­es­sar­i­ly a bad thing. An absorbent lin­ing gains weight when it becomes mois­ture laden, and can take longer to dry. It also los­es some of its ther­mal insu­lat­ing prop­er­ties. DWR is also designed to allow gar­ments to breath and wick mois­ture.