Skip to Content

How to Clean Your Outdoor Gear

How to clean your outdoor gear

Are you one of many people out there not cleaning your hiking, skiing and camping gear because you think it will break it down and be less effective? Join the club!

Well, I’m here to tell you that you NEED to clean your gear. Did you know that your gear (tents, sleeping bags, base layers, shells, etc.) actually perform better when they are clean? With proper washing, you can clean and rejuvenate your gear and have it perform like new!

Plus, the longer we can take care of the gear we already have, the less waste we will produce. We have a positive impact on the waste stream since we aren’t asking for more products to be produced and we are not throwing away what we have.

Maybe your gear is dirty from using it or maybe you had a kid puke in the tent. Whatever it is, we will help you get your gear cleaned up and get it back in action.

How to clean your outdoor gear
Camping as a family is fun, but we know kids can get gear dirty quick!

Disclosure: This post is brought to you by Nikwax, but I have been using their products for over 10 years to help clean and protect my gear. I LOVE these products and trust ALL my gear with them (even the expensive stuff!) Every time I wash my stuff I wonder why I didn’t do it sooner.

As an Amazon Associate and member of other affiliate programs, we earn from qualifying purchases.

What is Nikwax?

Nikwax was first introduced in North London back in 1977 by founder, (you guessed it) Nick Brown when he made his own waterproofing wax (get it, Nik-Wax). Today, Nikwax manufactures high quality cleaning and waterproofing (and breathable!) products for all your outdoor gear. They have cleaning, conditioning, and waterproofing products for shoes, shells, base layers, gear, and even for rugs/coats for your animals!

Can I just use my household laundry soap to clean my gear?

NO! Most household detergents can leave behind residues that can actually attract water to the surface fabric, causing soggy gear.

But what if I already did?? No problem, just wash with the appropriate Nikwax product and according to the product label. You items should return to their water-repellant self!

Just a reminder, your gear doesn’t like fabric softeners either.

How to clean your outdoor gear

Why I love Nikwax

Easy to use!

For most of my wearables and some gear items like sleeping bags, all I have to do is toss in the washer, put some Nikwax product in the dispenser and press start. When the wash is done, I just repeat with the waterproofer and then hang to dry or toss in the dryer, depending on the product. Hint: Green for Clean and Purple for (water)Proofing!

Safe to use!

Nikwax is environmentally safe and contains no propellant or flourocarbons. All the products are water based and are safe to use at home in your washing machine and are safe for your septic system too. To learn more about Nikwax’s stand on helping the environment and creating safe products, head to their page here.

It works!

This stuff brings life back to things that I thought were long gone! The feeling of having my down jackets cleaned and “refluffed” is just lovely.

Why you need to wash your…

Tents, Backpacks, and Shells

Campfire smoke, dust, dirt, sunscreen, bug spray, and whatever you pick up on your adventures is also getting picked up by your gear. A good cleaning regularly will help remove all that grime and give you the opportunity to re-waterproof or re-solarproof your gear to help it last longer and continue to keep you dry.

How to clean your outdoor gear

A good indicator that you need to wash and re-waterproof your shells or gear is when they start to absorb water instead of repel water, this is called “wetting out.”

After washing, apply a new DWR like Tent & Gear Solarproof or TX.Direct Spray or Wash-in to restore water repellency.

Footwear

Our footwear takes a beating on the trail, but don’t forget to clean it off when you get home. The longer you wear mud caked boots, the more opportunity that mud has to break down your boots. Mud on leather sucks the moisture out of the leather, causing them to dry out and wear out quicker.

Dirt and mud can also work its way into little cracks and grind away at the material (like sandpaper), once again causing the boot to age quicker. It also can also clog up the breathability of the boot.

Down Items (Sleeping Bags and Jackets)

Every time you wear or use a down product next to your skin, body oils/sunscreen/bug spray rub off and and stick to the item. Down can lose its loft over time as oils build up. The exterior fabric can also lose its water repellency (which protects the down) from wear, dirt, and abrasions.

A good washing with Down Wash followed by Down Proof (if desired) and a tumble dry will bring life back to your down gear.

Baselayers

Oils and dead skin cells from your body can get into the material and take away from properties that make the base layer great, like moisture wicking. Although wool is an excellent base layer and it can go a long time without needing a wash, it should still be washed periodically. Synthetic base layers will need to be washed more regularly.

When should I wash my gear?

Here are a few quick signs or times when your gear might need to be washed…

  • It is visibly dirty
  • It smells bad
  • It is no longer repelling water or it is “wetting out”
  • Down insulation is matting together or is not as lofty
  • After camping or adventuring near the ocean (sand and salt are abrasive and corrosive)
  • Prolonged UV exposure or smoke exposure (UV can “bake” dirt into your gear and smoke coats your gear in micro particles that should be removed)
  • You need to make a repair
How to clean your outdoor gear

Still not sure which product to use? Check out the Nikwax Clean Your Gear Flow Chart!

Protect your gear after you wash

Sometimes just cleaning your gear is enough to restore water repellency, but if a good cleaning doesn’t do it, then you need to revive the DWR. Products like Tent & Gear SolarProof, Down Proof, Nikwax TX.Direct Wash-In or Softshell Proof, etc are all great products to restore the DWR coating to your products. Solarproof goes one step further than just waterproofing and adds a UV blocker to help keep your gear lasting.

Extended UV exposure can break down the built in water repellency in fabrics and also decrease the strength of fabrics. SolarProof adds a UV blocking agent as well as a DWR. Nikwax also has SolarWash, which is a cleaner with UV protector in it.

How to Wash Your…

Tents

There are two ways you can wash your tent, immersion in a tub or clean it while pitched. Size of tent, type of cleaning needed, and space available are all factors to consider before getting started. Tent cleaning will require a few hours of time, so plan your cleaning day accordingly.

DO NOT USE YOUR WASHING MACHINE FOR YOUR TENT! It can destroy your tent and/or your washing machine.

Supplies needed:

Washing your tent (tub method):

  1. Gently brush off any caked on dirt and sweep out and debris in the tent, check the crevices!
  2. With your sponge and mild soap, spot clean any really dirty areas.
  3. Following the directions on Nikwax Tech Wash, prep your wash tub.
  4. Unzip the windows and doors, turn inside out (this helps get grime out of the corners and pockets).
  5. Put into your wash tub and knead until all parts have been soaked (about 5 min).
  6. Let soak for 20 minutes and knead again, soak a little more if needed.
  7. Carefully lift the tent out of the water and observe the nastiness, then drain.
  8. Gently squeeze the tent to get as much water out as you can *DO NOT WRING*
  9. Rinse out your tub and refill with clean water, repeat steps 5,6,7 until water is running clear and there is no soap left. (I normally rinse at least twice)
  10. In a cool, shady spot, set-up your tent to add Solarproof or air dry if not adding.

Washing your tent (tent pitched method):

  1. Set up your tent in a cool, shady spot.
  2. Gently brush off any caked on dirt and sweep out and debris in the tent, check the crevices!
  3. With your sponge and mild soap, spot clean any really dirty areas.
  4. Add Nikwax Tech Wash (100ml in 6L of water) to a bucket of water and mix until foamy. Sponge all over the tent.
  5. Rinse off thoroughly until the water runs clear and no soap remains.
  6. Prepare to add Solarproof (if using) or allow to air dry.

Adding Tent & Gear SolarProof

Solarproof to needs to be applied to wet gear, so this is best done right after you wash the product (since you should also have a clean product before applying Solarproof).

You will need to use approximately 2fl oz (50ml) of product per 10ft² (1m²) of fabric. Check the label for full instructions.

  1. Protect working surface and set-up your clean tent (or gear item) and wet.
  2. Spray SolarProof evenly to outside of fabric. (Avoid backpack straps)
  3. Let sit for 2 minutes and then remove any surplus product with a damp cloth.
  4. Check carefully to ensure no areas have been missed.
  5. After several minutes check for and remove any more surplus product with a damp cloth.
    • Marks could appear on fabric if surplus product is not wiped away, test on a hidden area first.

Let your tent dry, ALL THE WAY.

Make sure your tent is COMPLETELY DRIED before packing up to store. Even if you can’t leave it outside to dry completely, then bring inside and hang up over a shower rod, table and chairs, or erect in your living room. I typically don’t pack mine up for 3-5 days after washing, just to make sure everything is dry!

For some more tips and tricks and deep cleaning methods (pine sap, mildew, zipper issues) head on over to the REI Expert Advice page.

Down Outerwear and Down Sleeping Bags

A front-loading washing machine is best for all down items, especially sleeping bags, as the agitator in a top-loader can damage down feathers or become entangled with sleeping bags (ruining your bag and/or your washer). If you don’t have a front-loader at home head over to the local laundromat or grab some beers and visit a friend.

If you have a smaller front loader or large sleeping bags or jackets, those are sometimes best washed in a a commercial size front loader or hand wash in a tub, spun in the washer, then dried. Don’t forget to wear gloves if handwashing.

Supplies needed:

Washing your down

  1. Empty all the pockets, unzip the sleeping bag completely, and attach any Velcro or closures that may snag.
  2. Remove all detergent build-up from the detergent dispenser.
  3. Place maximum 2 items in washing machine.
  4. Add 100 ml of Nikwax Down Wash.
  5. Wash according to care label, preferably on low setting and slow spin.
  6. After the washing cycle has finished, run multiple rinse and spin cycles to remove any soap.
  7. Run a few spin-only cycles to get all the water out.

For more tips, check out REI’s Expert Advice on Cleaning Sleeping Bags.

Adding Down Proof

Down Proof adds Durable Water Repellency (DWR) to your down items, which protects them against rain and condensation, improving the natural insulating properties of down. It also helps protect each individual down filament, making sure you will stay warm and dry, even if the conditions aren’t the same.

After washing with Down Wash in a separate wash cycle, leave your items right in the washer and treat with Down Proof. No need to dry item(s) before waterproofing.

  1. Place clean item in washing machine (maximum 1 item).
  2. Use 150ml Down Proof for 1 item.
  3. Run cold synthetic cycle and slow spin.
  4. After the cycle has finished, run multiple spin cycles to remove excess water.

Drying your down

Drying down is best in a commercial sized dryer, so it can tumble and regain loft. Down will take a while to dry, but don’t rush it on a high heat setting. Low and slow. Add 2-3 clean tennis balls to the dryer to help break up any down clumps and re-fluff.

Make sure items are completely dry before storing!

Outerwear and Synthetic Sleeping Bags

A front-loading washing machine is best for all sleeping bags as the agitator in a top-loader could become wrapped with your bag and ruin your bag and/or washing machine. If you don’t have a front-loader at home head over to the local laundromat or grab some beers and visit a friend.

If you have a smaller front loader or large sleeping bags, items are best washed in a commercial size front loader or hand wash in a tub, spun in the washer, then dried. Don’t forget to wear gloves if handwashing.

How to clean your outdoor gear

Supplies needed:

Washing your synthetic gear

  1. Empty all the pockets, unzip the sleeping bag completely, and attach any Velcro or closures that may snag.
  2. Remove all detergent build-up from the detergent dispenser.
  3. Place maximum 2 items in washing machine.
  4. Use 150ml of Nikwax Tech Wash if you have medium/hard water and 100ml in soft water for 1-2 items.
  5. Wash according to care label, or on warm and gentle.
  6. After the washing cycle has finished, run multiple rinse and spin cycles to remove any soap.
  7. Run a few spin-only cycles to get all the water out (especially with larger items like sleeping bags or insulated jackets).

Looking for more tips on caring for your Sleeping Bag, REI has some Expert Advice for that too!

Adding TX.Direct Wash-In or Softshell Proof

TX.Direct Wash-in and Softshell proof adds Durable Water Repellency (DWR) to your items, which protects them against rain and condensation. It leaves a flexible DWR on individual fibers allowing moisture vapor to pass through, maintaining breathability. I love the wash-in verus spray-on because I know I won’t miss any spots!

After washing with Tech Wash in a separate wash cycle, leave your items right in the washer and treat with TX.Driect Wash-In. No need to dry item(s) before waterproofing. You can use a front loader or top loader, depending on your items. Top loading machines often have different requirements for amount of Nikwax.

  1. Place maximum of 2 clean garments in a front loading washing machine.
  2. Use 100ml TX.Direct Wash-in or Softshell Proof per garment.
  3. Run cold synthetic cycle and slow spin.

There are some instances where TX.Direct Spray-on waterproofing treatment should be used instead of a wash-in. The garment has a moisture-wicking liner that is designed to transport sweat away from the user through intentional absorption or spray-on DWR treatments are recommended specifically by the manufacturer of your gear.

Drying your synthetics

Check the care label on the item to see what kind of drying is required. Heat dry is not required with TX.Direct Wash-in or Softshell Proof, but you can heat dry if the care label allows.

Drying sleeping bags is best in a commercial sized dryer, so it can tumble and regain loft. Synthetics don’t takes as long to dry as down, but don’t rush it on a high heat setting. Low and slow. Tennis balls can help with the re-lofting.

Make sure items are completely dry before storing!

Footwear

Washing your hiking boots will start with Nikwax Footwear Cleaning Gel and end with the waterproofing product that matches your boots material. The Footwear Cleaning Gel is recommended for Gore-Tex, eVENT & SympaTex® footwear! Nikwax also has a Waterproofing Wax for smooth leather footwear. Check out all the footwear cleaning products here.

Supplies needed:

Washing your footwear

  1. Rinse footwear with clean water to remove loose mud and to dampen surface.
  2. Shake Footwear Cleaning Gel well before use. Press sponge applicator to break seal.
  3. Apply generously over the area to be cleaned.
  4. If very dirty scrub with a stiff nylon brush (e.g. nail brush).
  5. Rinse well with clean water.

Adding Nubuck & Suede Proof OR Fabric & Leather Proof

  1. Spray proofer evenly to outside of clean footwear (sponge-on option also available).
  2. After 2-3 minutes, wipe away surface with a clean cloth and allow to dry before use.

Looking to wash your sandals?

Check out the easy to use Nikwax Sandal Wash. Just sponge on and rinse off for clean, deodorized sandals.

Baselayers

Baselayers are one of the easiest to wash since you can just use your washing machine at home. just follow the instructions on the bottle and your garment care label, wash, dry and you are good to go! Wool can typically be worn 3-5 times before needing a wash. Synthetics typically need a wash after wearing.

Tips for keeping your baselayers fresh: don’t use fabric softener and don’t let sweat and dirt settle in.

DO NOT USE BaseWash or Wool Wash on waterproof items.

Wool Baselayers

Use wool wash and then dry according to the care label.

  1. Place item(s) in washing machine.
  2. Use 50 ml of Nikwax Wool Wash for front loading washing machines. For top loading machines use 100 ml for low water level or 150 ml for medium water level.
  3. Wash and dry according to care label.

Synthetic Baselayers

Nikwax BaseWash is easy to use and is a deodorizing cleaner for all your synthetic base layers. You can also use undiluted as a pre-treatment on stains too.

  1. Place item(s) in washing machine.
  2. Use 50ml of Nikwax BaseWash for front loading washing machines. For top loading machines use 100ml for low water level or 150ml for medium water level.
  3. Wash and dry according to care label.

Backpacks

For an in-depth look at how to wash your backpack or kid carrier, check out our post here!

Using Tech Wash in a bathtub is the easiest way to clean your backpacks and kid carriers. Follow up with Tent & Gear SolarProof to protect from harmful UV rays and restore the DWR.

Tips and Tricks for Using Nixwax

Write on the caps

There is a lot of tiny print on the labels, so reading through every time to get the right dose can be a little annoying. On the products I use regularly (like Wool Wash), I take a sharpie and write on the cap how many mL of product and the max number of garments you can wash. I often still double check the directions, but this gives me the numbers I need right away.

Also, check the cap colors. Green caps are for cleaning and purple caps are for water/solar proofing! GREEN CLEAN, PURPLE PROOF.

Get a small measuring cup

This is super handy for measuring all those mL measurements and it doesn’t leave a sticky residue all over the cap. I have a 3oz measuring cup like this one, but I only paid $3 for it at my local Meijer. This one lives in my laundry room, right by all my Nikwax supplies. When I am done with it, I just rinse it good and set it upside down on a piece of paper towel in a drawer, always ready for the next time!

Buy the big bottles

For the products you use frequently, get the big bottles. Some of the products require you to also use more with each load (like Down Proof, 100mL per load). Bigger bottles means you are less likely to run out in the middle of your cleaning leaving you anxiously awaiting your Amazon delivery (it has happened once or twice…)

Careful when waterproofing!

If you are waterproofing a tent with Solarproof or spraying TXDirect spray, make sure you protect your work area. DO NOT waterproof your items on grass or you may find yourself with some dead spots. The driveway works fine, but just know that you may have a very distinct square the next time it rains (and many times after-truly shows the durability of the product!) on your driveway after waterproofing a tent.

Max garment number and kids items

You will often see on the bottle that there is a max number of garments per wash. Often two garments is the max, but that doesn’t mean you can’t wash more than two kids items. Their recommendations seem to be based on two adult medium or large jackets. Nikwax customer service says that you can wash about 4-6 toddler jackets at once, or until the drum is about 2/3 full. Just make sure you are not overstuffing your drum!

Now Get Washing!

Weather it is kid’s snot, spilled coffee, or just dirt, Nikwax products are here to help you get the longest life out of the products you have! Now, if you have made it this far, you probably realize you don’t wash your gear enough (like me), so get washing!

If you are still unsure which product to choose for your gear item, head over to the Nikwax Clean Your Gear page for a handy flow chart to get you started choosing the correct product!

Also, the next time you see a slightly dirty or smelly item at a thrift store, maybe you won’t hesitate to buy it if you know you can rejuvenate it with some Nikwax!

Where to buy

Nikwax products can be purchased purchased at Backcountry.com, Amazon.com, REI.com or at your local outdoor retailer.

Related Articles

How to clean your outdoor gear with Nikwax

© 2021, Tales of a Mountain Mama. All rights reserved. Republication, in part or entirety, requires a link back to this original post and permission from the author.

Mud Kitchen Recipes and Ideas
← Previous
Boating with Babies and Toddlers
Next →