The weather forecast called for sunny skies a high of 83 degrees. Instead, it’s minus-25 and starting to snow, and the wind-chill factor is enough to make a longshoreman blush. Underneath my rain suit, I’m dressed in a t-shirt and jeans. Without base-layers or insulation, I’ll be dead—frozen solid—in a couple of hours.
Fortunately, only a step away there is a warm and dry place where I can retreat—because while these ice-cold conditions are harsh, they’re only a simulation. I’m at the Gore headquarters in Delaware. More specifically, I’m inside the Environmental Chamber of the company’s biophysics lab, where Gore tests all of their gear by subjecting it to extreme temperatures (-58 to 122 degrees), simulated rain showers, UV-light damage, and other environmental stressors. Another way to put it: This is where Gore puts every new Gore-Tex product through their own version of hell. They burn gear, freeze it, stretch it, grind it, and expose it to things like saltwater, gasoline, and human sweat—then they rinse it off and do the tests all over again. Grundens is collaborating with Gore this year to bring out an awesome new line of fishing bibs and jackets. They invited us to test out the new gear, and to see how Gore-Tex is made.
If you hunt or fish, chances are, at least once in your life, you’ve gotten soaking wet—and were so miserable that you probably wondered, briefly, why you bother spending time in the outdoors. Good, dependable rain gear and waterproof boots are things we learn to appreciate the hard way.
When it comes to waterproof gear, it’s hard to beat Gore-tex. And even though I have been using Gore-Tex gear for years, I never appreciated just how innovative, and durable, this clothing was before my trip to Gore HQ. I also didn’t realize how simple it is to clean and maintain my waterproof gear and keep it working properly for years to come.
How Is Gore-Tex Made?
Gore-Tex, and the material it is made from, actually come from a rock—or rather a mineral called fluorspar. It gets ground to a powder, baked into a soft doughy polymer, and then stretched into fabric. This fabric is called ePTFE (or expanded PTFE), and it’s a lot like the Teflon plumbers tape (used for sealing the threads on pipe) that’s commonly found at the hardware store.
Gore took ePTFE and explored possibilities for any application they could think of. It became a launchpad for many products, including life-saving medical devices and the membrane found in Gore-Tex jackets, pants, bivy bags, and more. The ePTFE was perfect for clothing because it could keep water and wind out while still allowing air to escape through microscopic pores.
Our bodies can produce up to 1 liter of sweat per hour and the tiny holes in a Gore-Tex membrane allow sweat to evaporate and escape. At the same time, they are too small for larger water molecules or wind to pass through. What you get is a waterproof, windproof membrane that breathes and adjusts to your body’s fluctuating temperature.
The membrane isn’t strong enough to hold up to the constant wear and tear that a piece of clothing experiences, so Gore laminates it onto different kinds of fabric for warmth and support. The fabric then gets another waterproof coating on the outside called Durable Water Repellent (DWR), and every seam–where a needle and thread punches through–gets glued and taped. Gore-Tex needs to be sewn and taped in a specific way, and Gore inspects every facility that does this.
Is it OK to Wash Gore-Tex Clothing?
After our spin in the gear torture-chamber, we all took off our rain gear and headed upstairs to a room that was remarkably less high-tech than the Environmental Chamber—but still sort of unbelievable: a room filled with 200 washing machines. I’m not exactly sure why, but I never thought you were supposed to wash Gore-Tex. I just assumed that running the clothes through a washer would destroy the waterproofing, so I have never cleaned any of my Gore-Tex gear.
Turns out, I wasn’t alone here. The folks at Gore told us that many people aren’t aware that washing Gore-Tex is actually good for the gear. When it gets dirty, the microscopic pores that are so important for breathability get clogged, and the garment no longer performs to its full potential. The easy fix—and one that is often overlooked—is simply to wash it and unclog the pores. The DWR coating is also available in many stores and online, and with a wash and a new application, your Gore-Tex will be ready for more gale-force winds and whatever else the Mother Nature throws at you.
Imagine my delight when I realized that all of my smelly, mud-encrusted hunting gear, crammed in tote boxes in my basement, could be washed—and worn in public again.
You could wait until your Gore-Tex is as dirty as mine (and by that, I mean dirty enough to walk out the door and go hunting all by itself), or you could look for a couple of telltale signs that your gear is ready to be washed: If water stops beading up on the outside and starts soaking into the fabric… If dirt is ground into high-wear areas like the cuffs and elbows… If sweat has discolored any part of the garment… These are all good indicators that it’s time to pick up some extra DWR, and give your gear a good wash per the instructions below.
How to Clean Gore-Tex at Home in a Washing Machine
Step 1: Use one capful of liquid detergent and set the machine to warm permanent press cycle (105 degrees F/40 degrees C). Make sure not to use any powder detergent, fabric softener, or bleach.
Step 2: Check the pockets on your Gore-Tex gear before zipping them all shut along with any other zipper on the garment. Add the garment and select the low-spin option, then wash. Rinse twice before hanging it to dry.
Step 4: Once the garment is dry, put it in the dryer for 20 minutes to reactivate and condition the DWR. If a dryer isn’t available, iron the garment on a warm, gentle setting without steam, and make sure to use a towel between the garment and the iron.