How to Care for Leather, Down & Gore-Tex
Technical fabrics including leather, nubuk, suede, down, Gore-Tex, and brand-specific waterproof fabrics, all work better when they are properly cleaned and treated with the appropriate products. Many people are fearful about cleaning outdoor equipment and clothing, however, most products are easy to wash and condition or treat.
Yes, it's true that if you wash your high-end Gore-Tex Pro Shell Jacket with a standard laundry detergent it will deteriorate more quickly. Today there are so many great products on the market that cleaning your outdoor clothing and shoes should be a piece of cake.
Leather is naturally water resistant but it's always a good idea to treat it with a leather conditioner and waterproofing agent after several uses. Whether the product you are looking to wash is a pair of sweaty gloves or muddy shoes, brush the layers off with a dry bristle brush, and then wash the remaining dirt and grime with a wet rag. If there is grease or stains on your leather you can use a pH-balanced mild, unscented soap as well. Some products will direct you to allow the leather to air dry completely (do not stick in the drier or too close to the fire - it will shrink!) before treating it with a leather balm. Many leather conditioners such as Sno-Seal and the Nik Wax products, have waterproofing in their conditioning balm. Follow the directions on the bottle. Some conditioners are liquid spray-on types and others are balms that you rub in to the leather. Allow the waterproofing to dry before going for a hike or out in the elements!
Nubuk & Suede (and other very soft, buttery, leather products):
Cleaning and waterproofing nubuk and suede is very similar to leather. It's a softer product so it is more easily ruined by dirt, grease, and water. First, use a dry bristle brush or a towel to remove the dirt. If you need to use water to get extra dirt and grime out of the material, do so with a wet rag or a suede washing solution (Nik Wax makes a great one). Once your garment or shoes are clean and dry, nubuk and suede respond very well to spray-on waterproofing solutions. Follow the directions on the bottle.
You can wash down in a front-load washing machine, a kitchen sink, or the bathtub. If you opt to get it dry cleaned (usually a minimum of $15), make sure they are going to wash it in a front load-machine and that they don't use harsh detergents. Do notwash any down product in a standard top-load, spin washing machine. Make sure to either use a down detergent or a mild unscented detergent such as Woolite. The key to getting your down fluffy again is in the drying process. Put your drier on the lowest heat setting and put about 5 tennis balls in the drier with your down laundry. It can also help to throw a dry towel in with it. The tennis balls bounce around and keep the down in your from clumping. The towel helps to soak up extra moisture. Your clean down laundry will come out of the drier just as fluffy as when you first bought it!
Gore-Tex and Water Proof Materials:
Water proof, breathable materials need to be washed once in a while to restore their breathability. It is best to check labels first but most waterproof products can be washed in any type of washing machine with either a mild detergent or something akin to NikWax's Tech Wash. Once you dry your product, either on warm in the dryer (which is believed to re-activate the Durable Water Repellent Treament - DWR), or on a clothes line, use a spray-on waterproofing finish. Gore-Tex does not recommend using a wash-in waterproofing solution because it can reduce the garment's breathability. For more information on washing Gore-Tex, visit the Gore-Tex Care page.