3 Ways to Care for Your Outerwear Fabric

Even if you don’t mind your ski gear looking a bit broken-in, cleaning your ski jackets and pants impacts more than just aesthetics. Dirt and grime can limit the breathability and waterproof nature of your outerwear, affecting their feel and performance on the slopes. In that sense, washing your favorite items can significantly improve their performance and lifespan.

A lot of people are hesitant to wash outerwear because they think it will have a negative effect. Some even opt to dry-clean their ski jackets with harsh chemicals (but all the best intentions). The truth is, washing ski jackets and pants in a regular old washing machine a couple times a year is typically the best way to protect your investment and keep your gear up to par. In fact, durable water-repellent (DWR) treatments actually benefit from annual cleaning. To help you keep your apparel looking good and performing like new, we’ve laid out some tips and tricks to guide your cleaning efforts.

1. Check the Washing Instructions

Sure, it sounds simple. But for most people, the washing symbols on clothing tags might as well be hieroglyphics. If you’ve never looked up their meanings, it can be difficult to understand how a few shapes could serve as actual instructions. Outerwear gear uses special waterproof and insulation treatments, coatings, dyes, and linings to achieve that perfect mix of breathability, warmth, and dryness, so it’s especially important to give these symbols the attention they deserve.

The majority of ski outerwear is machine wash cold (possibly delicate), no bleach, low-heat tumble dry, do not dry-clean, as illustrated by the following sequence of symbols:

Cold water is sufficient to lift dirt and grime from the fabric membrane and restore its breathability and DWR nature. A low heat in the dryer then works to reactivate the DWR, and a gentle, tumble dry cycle helps prevent the insulation from clumping.

But don’t take this as law. Different types of insulation require special washing instructions or may need to be line-dried. If you’re afraid to wash down, remember that feathers lose their insulation abilities when they get dirty, so holding out on your favorite puffy isn’t doing you (or it) any good. That said, it’s important to rinse off all soap and avoid using extra cleaning agents like fabric softeners or dryer sheets that add unnecessary chemicals and grease to the garment. The residue that they leave behind can clog fabric just like the dirt you’re set on removing. When drying a down or synthetic down blended jacket in a dryer, add a tennis ball or two into the machine and let it run on low for a solid two hours to help fluff out the jacket, break up insulation clumps, and ensure everything dries evenly.

For all outerwear (and all clothing, really), it’s also important to zip all zippers, close all fasteners, and empty all pockets before you wash. The last point is pretty straightforward—no one wants their forgotten, half-eaten protein bar to become forever grafted into their pants. Less people consider the fact that zippers and other fasteners have sharp edges that can tear or pull other parts of the jacket as everything tumbles around.

For specific wash instructions for your garment, use this chart to decode your tag:

2. Combat Stains

For non-dirt stains like lift grease, sunscreen, chapstick, and so on, it’s usually best to do some spot washing by hand. Rather than using a chemical stain remover that isn’t designed for high-performance fabrics, a little bit of dish soap and water is actually one of the best (and safest) stain remedies. Spot wash the problem area before throwing the item in the wash so that it can get a thorough machine rinse. If you’ve been glade skiing and have extra-sticky tree sap stains, try hardening the sap with a bag of ice and peeling it off to avoid fruitless scrubbing.

3. Choose the Right Detergent

You’ve looked up the washing instructions, turned out your pockets, spot cleaned the stains, and zipped everything up tight. Now what?

When it comes to washing high-performance fabrics, gentle powder detergents are likely your best bet. As opposed to their liquid counterparts, powder detergents have less surfactants—the agent responsible for lowering the surface tension of a fabric in order to absorb water for a deep clean. DWR treatments are designed to boost the surface tension of a garment so that water wicks off rather than sinking in. If you use a detergent with less surfactants, you’ll still get a good clean without unnecessarily abrading the DWR treatment.

There are also special cleaning products designed for high-tech, high-performance fabrics, like the industry favorite Nikwax. Nikwax is designed to both clean and replenish the DWR and breathability of outerwear fabrics. If you’re planning on washing merino wool base layers or socks, do them in a separate load with a special detergent designed for wool fabrics and dry them on their own to prevent pilling.

Finally, remember that more detergent doesn’t equal a better clean. Although it’s easy to be heavy-handed with detergent on the jobs that look extra tough, doing so is actually counterproductive. Rather than getting a better clean, your garments—and your washing machine—will be left with a waxy residue.

For more outerwear cleaning guidelines and tips, reach out to the clothing company directly. To find out more about how to get the most out of SYNC’s high-tech performance fabrics and materials, feel free to send us a note or drop us a line.

About the Author

Geof is the head of product and design at SYNC. A former NCAA racer at Boston College, he now focuses on back-country skiing and endurance mountain biking in his free time.