I have an article about high-tech golf clothing in the April Golf Digest. While I was working on it, I spent most of two days at the Natick Soldier System Center, in suburban Boston, where the Army creates and tests just about all the gear that’s used by members of all branches of the armed forces. The head of the base’s public relations department told me, “If soldiers wear it, eat it, sleep under it, or have it dropped on them, it’s researched and developed here.”
Among the most useful things I learned at Natick is that you should never, ever use fabric softener or dryer sheets on any synthetic sports clothing, including your rainsuit, and that you should wash your rainsuit periodically, and probably also run it through the dryer at low heat or iron it with a warm iron. The reason is that almost all rainsuits have an outer layer that’s treated at the factory with what’s known as a durable water-repellent (D.W.R.) finish. This isn’t what makes your rain jacket waterproof—that’s the function of an inner membrane, made of Gore-Tex or some comparable material—but the D.W.R. finish contributes to the jacket’s breathability and overall comfort, by causing water on the outer surface to immediately bead up and slide off. Gentle washing makes the D.W.R. finish work better, and gentle heat (whether from the dryer or a warm iron) can revive a finish that’s wearing out.
As soon as I got home from Natick, I washed all my rain gear with Nikwax Tech Wash, which is formulated for waterproof, breathable fabrics, and then I beefed up their D.W.R. finishes with Nikwax TX.Direct, which is a D.W.R. finish that you apply in your washing machine. You can order both (and lots of other stuff) from R.E.I., among other places.
At Natick, I also learned that you should never, ever use fabric softener or dryer sheets on a rainsuit or any other synthetic sports apparel. Fabric softeners can smother fabric treatments, such as the ones that promote wicking, and they can ruin raingear, which can also be harmed by detergent residue (a reason to use modest amounts or a product like Tech Wash, and to follow the instructions on the care label).