Critical Wader Care — Advice From the Companies Themselves — How to Wash and Dry Your Waders

by | Sep 7, 2023 | 28 comments

The long-term angler spends more money on waders and boots over a lifetime than any other piece of gear. Rods and reels last longer, and most come with generous warranties that cover occasional breakage. So, provided the angler doesn’t struggle with gear acquisition syndrome (buying a bunch of unnecessary stuff), it’s the wader cost that adds up over time.

Modern waders are still just a pair of waterproof pants made for walking around in the water. But we ask a lot of them. We want them highly breathable and more durable. Let’s have them extra comfortable too.

Wader manufacturers have met the demand. Turns out, yes, it’s possible to have all those qualities in a submersible pair of pants. But oh my, you’re going to pay for it.

Most of us do. We’ve learned that spending less on your waders than your weekly grocery bill is a mistake, resulting in a short season of success before failure takes over. You’ll eventually pay for what you get — you’ll pay in discomfort, lost fishing time and a new pair of better waders, just as soon as the cheapies are challenged with any real test. Frequent fishing, hiking and wading long hours requires more than budget waders can provide.

So we pay for the good stuff. The truth is, every name brand out there builds good quality waders, even in their lower tiered options. So we buy the best we can afford.

READ: Troutbitten | What to Spend On and What to Skimp On

And with that purchase comes an immediate need to care for our high dollar waterproof pants. But who does this? Who among us follows through, cleaning our waders with enough frequency to maximize the long term durability that we believe we’ve paid for? Very few.

Most anglers are confused by wader care because the recommendations from many sources are different. I know I’m confused.

So I asked my friends from every prominent wader building company. How should we care for them?

I didn’t want the text from a garment label or a web page. I wanted to know how often to wash waders and what detergent to use. I wanted to know about machine washing and drying vs hand washing and line drying, about DWR treatments and restoring breathability. So I asked for answers to a few specific questions about wader care, and each of these companies responded in kind.

Their replies were remarkably varied. Here’s what they told me.

** I’ve condensed these replies to a reasonable format. To view the full text of these replies, find the PDF HERE.

Photo by Bill Dell

Question #1

How often should we wash our waders? After a certain number of trips, or is there an indication that waders should be washed, such as seeing wet-out in the fabric?

SKWALA

For some reason, many people are afraid to wash technical gear, whether it be a waterproof jacket or a pair of breathable waders. But there is no reason to be concerned. In fact, we encourage it. Frequent (every few uses) rinsing of your waders helps to remove any substances on the face of the textile that might accumulate over time.

Periodic washing with a light detergent every 15-20 days of use will help to clean body oils, greases, dirt or foreign substances that might negatively impact the performance and breathability of your waders. If you notice any areas that look to be stained or dirty, a quick wash can help to remove anything that may interfere or break down the laminates or membrane of the waterproof/breathable textile.

Indicators for washing really vary with type of use. If you’re hiking all day in sand or sweating a lot in them, more frequent washing will keep the breathability up. Additionally, if there is significant ground-in dirt of the face fabric, washing them will help to reactivate the DWR coating.

REDINGTON

You can wash them as many times as you feel necessary, but it’s not required after every trip unless you’re in a dirty environment. However, if you’re fishing saltwater, you should absolutely spray the outside of your waders (and boots) down with freshwater after every session.

Doing a full wash every 10 trips is a reasonable number to keep them from stinking, holding dirt, and for prolonging the life of your gear.

ORVIS

It is a great idea to periodically wash waders and waterproof jackets. Washing helps remove dirt and debris that may cause additional wear and tear, as well as clean out bacteria and mold that builds up over time.

However, washing can be tough on the fabric, so it shouldn’t be a frequent thing. Once a season is plenty if someone is fishing a moderate to low amount. Someone who is fishing in waders almost daily could use a mid-season wash to reactivate the DWR and clear things out.

SIMMS

When you should wash your waders should be dictated by the face fabric. When the wader fabric begins to saturate or “wet out”, that’s when you should think about giving your waders a good wash.

Waders that are wetting out doesn’t mean they are leaking, it just means the fabric itself is holding water/moisture.

When your waders are wetting out, breathability is also compromised. After washing your waders water should bead again, and the breathability of waders should be restored.

Wash your waders as often as you need to remove such impurities as dirt and oils. Washing and drying your waders helps restore the durable water repellency (DWR). Also, if you wash your waders inside out, it can prolong the life of the wader. If the inside is getting stinky or musty at all, they need to be washed.

Mildew kills waders, so cleaning and completely drying the waders inside out is critical.

PATAGONIA

A good rinse with fresh water after each outing is very important. Waders should be washed when they start to stink due to bacteria buildup or when you notice reduced water repellency.

READ: Troutbitten | You Stink — It’s the Wader Funk — Letter to a Lonely Friend

Question #2

Specifically, what detergent or soap?

ORVIS

We recommend the following tech washes:

Ivory Snow powdered laundry detergent
ReviveX Synthetic Fabric Cleaner
Nikwax Tech Wash

Do not use bleach.

SKWALA

Using a small amount of a light detergent without any fabric softeners or bleach is recommended when washing your waders.

If you feel inclined, use a specialty detergent engineered for technical fabrics. We really like the Revivex Pro Cleaner. These will help to break down any foreign materials on the wader and clear the textile’s pores to improve both waterproofness as well as breathability.

It is also important to take care of your neoprene feet. Skwala uses an antimicrobial treatment on our neoprene stocking feet, but it is critical to keep organic matter like algae and bacteria in check if you want to get years of use from your waders.

PATAGONIA

We recommend using a specialized product like ReviveX Synthetic Fabric Cleaner or Nikwax Tech Wash for washing your waders. These are designed to clean without damaging the DWR.

SIMMS

Consumers can/should use any laundry detergent they like — provided that detergent doesn’t contain any fabric softener. In short, any kind of mild laundry detergent without fabric softener.

REDINGTON

For just a quick clean, use dish soap (no bleach), combined with warm water in a bucket or tub, and agitate them by hand.

You can also use a technical cleaner like Nikwax.

Question #3

Hand wash only, or is machine wash acceptable?

SIMMS

As long as the washing machine does not have an agitator, or the agitator functionality is disabled, you can absolutely use a washing machine.

However, to be safe, I’d highly recommend ignoring the washing machine and hand washing instead. Spend a little time and hand wash your waders with a soft to medium/soft scrub brush. That way, you don’t have to worry about compromising the performance or construction of any seams, suspender straps, zippers, gravel guards or anything else.

Hand washing is a foolproof way to clean your waders without risk.

SKWALA

Both machine wash and hand wash are acceptable ways to wash your waders, although if you machine wash, it must be a front load machine, without an agitator. The length of your waders wrapped around an agitator could damage your wader seams.

If you choose to wash your waders in the washing machine, it is important to do so on a delicate, cold water cycle and only to use light detergents without fabric softeners or bleach.

REDINGTON

We recommend only handwashing Redington waders in cold water.

ORVIS

Waders can be rinsed with water as often as desired. But, if washing, follow these instructions:

Remove all items from pockets before washing. Hand or Machine Wash in cold on gentle cycle. Hang or tumble dry on low.

PATAGONIA

Hand washing is preferred to preserve the longevity of your waders. If machine washing is necessary, use a front-load machine on a gentle cycle.

Question #4

Is using the dryer on low/delicate okay, or should waders always be line dried?

REDINGTON

We recommend line drying only. Once the outside is dry, turn the waders inside-out to dry the inside. Machine dryers can damage the seams of any wader.

SIMMS

You can use a dryer on low temp or a delicate cycle. But to minimize risk, we’d recommend hanging them up and letting them air dry.

PATAGONIA

Waders can be dried in a machine dryer. Dry them inside/out, and then reverse, once the booties are dry to the touch. A low heat setting also helps to rejuvenate the DWR.

ORVIS

Waders should be hung to dry after fishing or after a hose-down cleaning.

But, once or twice a season, a more thorough washing, followed by tumble dry low heat in the dryer helps to reactivate the DWR.

SKWALA

Skwala waders should be line dried only. Dryers vary in temperature, even on the lowest setting, and too much heat can start to soften the glue in the tape seams.

Simply hang the waders until dry. Then reverse, inside out, to complete the drying process. Check areas such as the pockets, shoulder straps, and stocking feet for any residual moisture.

It is of the utmost importance that your waders are fully dried on both the exterior as well as interior of the wader before storing. Properly drying waders is critical to prevent the potential growth of any mildew or mold that can build if stored wet for a prolonged period.

Mold or mildew have the potential to break down the laminates and membranes of the textile. Hanging waders in a controlled environment is a great way to ensure they remain protected from unnecessary moisture.

Question #5

After washing, how should the DWR finish be rejuvenated? And how often? Every time or less than that?

SKWALA

Washing your waders will help to clean pores of the textile and allow all the properties of the waterproof/breathable textile to function properly, though over time the DWR will become less and less effective.

If you notice areas of the wader that are routinely wetting out, we recommend treating the outside of the garment with Gear Aid Revivex and let it air dry for 24 hours before use. This allows for the DWR to fully set in without the use of a dryer.

SIMMS

If you do a thorough job of scrubbing, rinsing and drying your waders, your DWR should rejuvenate. Once again, it’s not just revitalizing the DWR, it’s making sure the breathability performance is functioning.

Grease, fish slime, floatant, mud, dirt, etc — all of these types of things not only cause your waders to wet out, they clog the pores that allow the waders to breath.

REDINGTON

Use a technical wash from Nikwax. Typically, when your waders start to “hold,” water and it stops beading up, is when you can apply a DWR treatment.

ORVIS

We recommend the these products to reapply the DWR coating:
Nikwax® TX-Direct
ReviveX Spray-On Water Repellent

PATAGONIA

Rejuvenate the DWR finish when you notice water is no longer beading up on the fabric.

You can use a product like ReviveX Durable Water Repellent or Nikwax TX.Direct Spray-On. This doesn’t need to be done every time, only when you notice reduced water repellency.

READ: Troutbitten | Category | Gear Reviews

Photo by Bill Dell

What Did We Learn?

So, what should we make of all this? Washing and drying waders is an important part of extending the life and performance of your investment. On that point, every company agrees.

But as you see, their recommendations for frequency of washing, suitable detergent, DWR treatment and the use of machines varies.

For my part, I’ve learned that keeping waders clean matters, inside and out, and keeping them dry is paramount. It sounds like making the effort to hand wash is my best choice, and I don’t think I’ll take the chance of throwing waders in the dryer — no machines. I doubt that I’ll spend money on tech washes anymore, instead using a mild detergent without softeners. And when it comes to restoring the water repellency of a DWR treatment, I’ll use ReviveX and let it air dry for a day — once again, avoiding the dryer.

One glaring absence in this article is how to patch waders. That’s intentional, and it’s a different topic, worthy of its own write up here on Troutbitten. Because repairing waders is, once again, brand specific.

Keep waders clean so they last longer.

Fish hard, friends.

 

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Enjoy the day.
Domenick Swentosky
T R O U T B I T T E N
domenick@troutbitten.com

 

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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28 Comments

  1. Fish salt almost daily in winter, always FW rinse when available after and shade dry. Florida is brutal on waders. With adequate care a couple seasons on budget waders is not unheard of. Look forward to trying a couple of these products new to me, great article!

    Reply
  2. This is a great article and I at least rinse my waders off after almost every trip. At the very least I hang them up. I’m going to grab some DWR treatment, so thanks for the link.

    As we discussed on my trip with you in the Spring, I’ve been pretty angry at the length of time waders have “lasted” before they leak. I just sent a pair to a company for just that problem (less than 1 year, again).

    Do you believe that the more expensive models last longer (they all leak)? I’ve avoided spending the money because of my recent experiences. I’ve been very tempted to take advantage of your code or sales on other waders, but was hesitant to spend the extra $. Thanks.

    Reply
    • Yes. Waders from one of the companies above last longer than the others. I listed these companies because even their lower end waders are a good buy. I have struggled with waders from the companies not listed here. I have people tell me sometimes that they got ten years out of a pair of Red Balls or Cabela’s. I have not. And for anyone who really digs in and fishes much, who covers water and walks a lot, who fishes more than a dozen times a year, the cheapies just don’t hold up.

      Reply
      • Thanks Dom. The waders I sent back is one from above (just trying to not call them out) and I’ve had a slightly better pair from the same company fail in less than a year, which is why I asked. Maybe I just need to bite the bullet on a higher end pair. I guess walking and wading 100+ days a year would earn me that.

        Thanks again.

        Reply
        • I can 100% agree with Dom on this. I had a pair of Sims freestone that lasted me 10 years( I don’t put in quite as many days as Dom) before the seam at the stocking foot finally started to leak. I thought I would give another well known brand a try again sticking to their lower end model and had seam issues within a year. So I bit the bullet and bought a higher end model from a popular brand and I’m so glad I did. Just from a comfort level it was a difference.
          Sometimes you find a lemon no matter what products you buy but finding a pair of waders that fit well will surely keep you on the water longer.

          Reply
    • Hi John – when it comes to leaders not leaking, in my experience the fit is absolutely crucial. I got a mid range pair from a guy whose only business is wader sales and repairs. I sent him my measurements and budget and he hooked me up with a pair that fit, which are coming up on three seasons with no leaks.

      Reply
  3. Thank you for taking the time to do the research. Your final paragraph sums up the article very nicely!!!

    Reply
  4. Dom upon your recommendation, I purchased a pair of “high end” waders (3) seasons ago. They have not disappointed me in the least. Stiff n tough yes but they’ve kept me warm and dry. My previous “high end” waders were disappointing, failing similar to that in your picture accompanying your article. I’ve been down the cheap wader rabbit hole and will not do that again. I do make sure I hang them up to dry, out of any direct sunlight in a well ventilated area after each use. Washing was done infrequently at best due to my thinking it would negatively affect them. I now stand corrected, thanks for the great article and am looking forward to “how to find and fix leaks”article.

    Reply
    • Ha. Fixing leaks is definitely a whole other thing. Different materials require different strategies.

      Cheers.

      Reply
  5. Is it recommended to hang waders when not in use? After drying I role mine up and keep in vented taco ready for next trip.

    Reply
    • I don’t like storing them rolled up because it’s hard for me to be confident they are completely dry. But if they are, it shouldn’t matter.

      Reply
    • Hi Rick, my old G3’s ctually came with a factory tag recommending rolled up storage. Just make sure they’re dry.

      Reply
  6. I have been using woolite and hand washing my waders. So far 3yrs with some minor leaks on a pair of Simms freestone waders. I recently added a and EZPee zipper from Bill Anderson and it works great. Would be very interested in the best way to repair minor leaks. In the past I have used UV glue while on the river and that did the job.

    Reply
    • The UV stuff is okay, but it will crack and fail over time. Aquaseal is the real deal.

      Reply
  7. What and how is the proper way to hang the waders both after cleaning and storage till next outing? Someday by the booties others by the suspenders

    Great articles with good info to learn more and try.

    Thanks much.

    Reply
    • I think hang ’em upright, that was the moisture can escape. Hanging upside down kinda traps it.

      Reply
  8. I fish 6-7 days a week,if I get two years I’m thrilled

    Reply
  9. Nice article Dom, and certainly much needed. I’ve been (as all of us) guilty of a tardy washing regime.

    I look forward to your “leak repair” article. For too many years (and too many waders!) I’ve had to either repair (Aquaseal) or replace waders. Pretty sick of it. I learnt a long time ago to only buy high-end waders, but frankly, have been disappointed way too often. My latest Orvis Pro’s have lasted only ~50 water days, before repair. I’m tough on waders sure, but “durable” waders is kind of an oxymoron. I’d love to try the Skwala’s, but it’s impossible to get them in Australia…
    Cheers again for your work mate.

    Reply
  10. Wader Care and Feeding. A History.

    Forty years ago a claimed destroyer of waders was dry rot caused by “ozone damage”. This hazy science idea of ozone damage was pushed by a large wader manufacturer of the day. That manufacturer -now defunct- recommended storing waders in a closed bag after use in order to reduce this ozone damage.Regional bad air was used to explain a lot of defective wader returns.

    With that intel – and a pile of leaky waders – I designed the first commercially available wader bag in 1982. The Ozark Outfitters Stand On Wader Bag was advertised in outdoor magazines during the early 1980’s. See Fly Fisherman Magazine (volume 14 number 1) December 1982 page 54. This wader bag was also awarded a patent – Des # 279234. The patent is on file with the US patent office. If a wader bag was available before 1982, let me know. My patent lawyer in the early 1980s found none.

    The current Simms “Taco Wader bag” is an almost exact copy of the Ozark Outfitters Stand On Wader bag introduced in 1982 and patented in 1985. Ten years ago Simms called the Taco wader bag “a smart design”. To Simms I say “thank you”.

    So if ozone damage prevention comes back in style perhaps the Taco Bag can help your waders last longer. If not, please enjoy having a place to stand when put on and take off your waders. It is one of fly fishing pleasures I’ve enjoyed for over forty years.

    Reply
  11. I hang my waders from a 2′ length of 4″ pvc pipe in my garage. This holds them open enough to completely air out. the pipe is also gentle on the suspenders. Give it a try.

    Reply
  12. Well done Dom great article very practical and a good reminder to get it done !!

    Reply
  13. Very useful information and much appreciated. One small tip to add … I always turn my waders inside out, at least to the bootie, when I take them off at the car. That lets the inside air out and dry out any condensation on my rive home. At home, I turn them back right side out and hang them to finish drying.

    Wondering if you’ve got any similar tips for cleaning, drying (?) and treating boots? I just bought a pair of Orvis boots (based in part on your review). Wondering if it would be worth treating the boot and especially thread seams before I use them?

    Reply
  14. What a super article! To be honest, I never even thought of cleaning my waders! Thanks, Dom

    Reply
  15. Thank you Dom. First time I’ve ever cleaned my waders, mainly because they never lasted more than a year or so at best. I have Simms G-3’s and so far so good for a full two years and fishing 100+ days a year. So, after you wash them, do you let completely dry before adding the water repellent or while the waders are still wet?

    Reply

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Domenick Swentosky

Central Pennsylvania

Hi. I’m a father of two young boys, a husband, author, fly fishing guide and a musician. I fish for wild brown trout in the cool limestone waters of Central Pennsylvania year round. This is my home, and I love it. Friends. Family. And the river.

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