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.
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.”
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Specifically, what detergent or soap?
We recommend the following tech washes:
Do not use bleach.
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.
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.
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.
Hand wash only, or is machine wash acceptable?
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.
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.
We recommend only handwashing Redington waders in cold water.
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.
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.
Is using the dryer on low/delicate okay, or should waders always be line dried?
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
After washing, how should the DWR finish be rejuvenated? And how often? Every time or less than that?
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.
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.
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.
Rejuvenate the DWR finish when you notice water is no longer beading up on the fabric.
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.
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