By now, softshell textiles have already found their firm spot in almost every outdoor wardrobe. No matter if you’re on the bike, skiing or climbing in the mountains – due to their great and wide ranging properties, it would be hard to imagine outdoor trips without them. Comfortable and stretchy, they allow for great freedom of movement and are for the most part almost entirely windproof and water repellent. This differs from hardshell clothing, which are always fully waterproof. So, how should you care for your softshells?
What is softshell?
Softshell is more of a generic term than an exact definition of material. There are diverse softshell materials, which sometimes have a windproof membrane, such as Gore Windstopper. Generally, softshell textiles are made from synthetic fibres, which deliver excellent transfer of moisture vapour whilst delivering good insulation and protection against the wind. The outer and midlayer are combined, reducing the overall weight. Usually, a softshell material is constructed with three layers.
On the outside, there is usually a water repellent material, which consists of an abrasion-proof and robust outer fabric that absorbs as little humidity as possible and has been given a DWR (Durable Water Repellent) treatment. The soft material on the inside feels comfortable and wicks away sweat from your skin. The layer in the middle is the one with the special properties of the garment. The focus is either on being windproof, breathable or as water repellent as possible.
Furthermore, the different thickness of material means that some textiles offer better insulation against the cold than others that are better suited for warm days. There are, for example, softshell jackets that are almost completely windproof in the front and on the side to prevent you from getting cold. The back is usually only breathable because you will likely be wearing a backpack. This is perfect for high energy trips when you’re always be on the go.
How and when do I wash my softshell?
For softshell textiles, there are basically no guidelines, so you can wash it as you normally would. However, the more often you wash the jacket or trousers, the sooner/more often the DWR treatment has to be renewed.
Simple stains, like dry mud, can be cleaned quickly and easily with a soft brush. For bigger stains or if you wore the jacket for a long period of time, you’ll need to throw it in the washing machine.
Whether you have trousers, a jacket or gloves made of a softshell material, there are no differences when it comes to washing and everything can be washed in the machine without a second thought. If you follow the instructions below, you can do it in no time:
- Always follow the sewn-in care instructions before washing
- All hook-and-loop fasteners and zips should be closed and the garments turned inside out
- It’s best to use a liquid detergent such as Nikwax Tech Wash, as washing powder can clog the pores of the garment and ruin its breathability
- Under no circumstance use fabric softener, it destroys the membranes
- Choose a delicate cycle with a low temperature (30°/40°C)
- Thoroughly rinse the garments with clean water, choose the “extra rinse” function on the washing machine.
- If possible, do not spin dry or only spin briefly at very low speeds.
Drying and care
To dry garments made of a softshell material, you can simply hang them on a line while they are wet and leave them to dry. As soon as the garment is completely dry, the DWR treatment can be easily regenerated. To do this, put the garments into a tumble-dryer and use a delicate cycle. The warmth will reactivate the DWR treatment. If you don’t have a dryer at hand, you can easily achieve the reactivation with a flat iron. Just use a low heat without steam and carefully go over the material while using a cloth as protection from direct heat.
- Just let it air dry on a line when damp
- After drying, reactivate the DWR treatment in a tumble-dryer or with a flat iron
Renewing the DWR treatment
When the dry treatment eventually becomes too weak and can’t be reactivated, it is time for a renewal. Only a good DWR treatment lets softshell clothing become a versatile piece of clothing, which can be used in almost any weather. For this reason, a reliable DWR treatment is essential. The renewal of the DWR treatment can be achieved in two ways. The simplest way is to use a spray that is sprayed onto the outer material from the outside. The other option is applying a liquid DWR treatment, which is washed into the clothing according to the respective instructions. We would recommend the spray.
- Renewal of the waterproofing is possible without any problems
- Ideally with a spray: easy to use, you can treat specific areas or leave them out to achieve greater breathability.
In our article “How to waterproof hardshell jackets”, you can get further information on the topic of DWR and the reactivation of dry treatments.
What else do I have to look out for?
Softshell garments are made from synthetic fibres, which, like all these materials, are very susceptible to heat. When using a stove or open fire, you need to be more cautious when wearing softshell garments.
Apart from this, there is not much to look out for. Of course, we recommend staying away from pointy thorns and sharp rocks, but that’s it. Softshell clothing is extremely versatile and easy to clean. This is the reason why they are so popular. Not only are they great on tours, but also for commuting to work. And if you follow the instructions for softshell care, you will enjoy it for a long time and many days of touring!