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Washing Breathable Waders

by Philip Monahan

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Question: I recently noticed an unpleasant odor in my car, which turned out to be caused by my waders in the back. Can you wash breathable waders without ruining them? If so, how?

Mark C., via email

Washing Breathable Waders

Not only can you wash breathable waders, but you should if you want them to work as well as possible.

Answer: Not only can you wash breathable waders, but you should if you want them to work as well as possible. Dirt, grime, body oils, and abrasions can lessen the effectiveness of the durable water repellent (DWR) coating used in breathable-wader materials. According to Orvis wader developer Tim Daughton, periodic cleaning helps the wader material to breathe better and restores the DWR coating that causes water to bead up and run off the outside of the wader.

Warning #1: Always read the manufacturer’s instructions for your particular waders, as there are some variations among the different technologies now in use.

That said, most manufacturers call for hand-washing your waders with a powder detergent that contains no fabric softeners or bleach. There are several specialty cleaners, such as Revivex Synthetic Fabric Cleaner and Nikwax Tech Wash, available that are designed specifically for use with waterproof materials and DWR coatings.

After washing and rinsing the waders thoroughly, air them dry, both inside and out. Of the manufacturers I checked, only Orvis suggests putting the waders in the washing machine on “gentle,” and this is for stockingfoot versions only.

Once the waders are clean, you can go a step further and reapply a DWR treatment such as Nikwax TX-Direct or Revivex Spray-On Water Repellent. Because these products set best under heat, you can use an iron (on low setting) or a hair dryer. There’s an excellent explanation of how DWR works—and why cleaning and reapplying are effective—on the REI website.

If you poke around on the websites of wader manufacturers, you can usually find all the information you need. But… Warning #2: Make sure you read the care instructions that came with the waders.

Some of the best manufacturer “Care & Washing” pages can be found on the Orvis,Simms, and Patagonia Web sites.

MidCurrent Fly Fishing
Phil Monahan is a former Alaskan guide and was the long-time editor of American Angler magazine. He's now a columnist for MidCurrent and writes and edits the fly-fishing blog at You can email your fly fishing questions to us at
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  • Jay

    I own three pairs of stocking foot waders,+10 year old Sims, Cloudveil (also old and no longer available) and Orvis Silver Sonic. None of these leak. I have washed them at least twice a season in the washing machine on the gentle cycle. I have used Tech Wash or powdered detergent. After air drying inside and out I hang them in a cool dark place, either a closet or the garage. No funk and as I said no leaks. Your mileage may vary.

  • zachmatthews

    I’m in the trial and error camp on this. I’ve probably machined washed waders a dozen times over the years, and like Phil I’ve asked around on the proper technique.

    Ned Hutchinson, once of Cloudveil, used to explain that DWR coatings are like a “forest of tiny trees” which stand up from the fabric and thereby repel water, preventing “wet-out.” As waders get soiled the trees get crushed down and can no longer do their job. In order to revive the DWR effect you can spray Revivex on there, but it will simply lay down on top of the crushed existing DWR coating, which can also repel it. That’s why Revivex only lasts a certain amount of time. To really maximize the cleaning effect the best thing to do would be to machine-wash the wader fabric in hot water with a tech wash like Nikwax. Unfortunately heat and aggressive agitation can delaminate the seam tape which helps waders stay waterproof. In my experience this usually happens first on the neoprene feet, which I don’t think the tape bonds as well to in the first place.

    So to some extent this is a compromise situation. FRONT-LOAD washing machines without an agitator will certainly do less damage to the seam tape. You should never use any kind of fabric softener (as this mats down DWR in a serious way), and it’s a good idea to clean your washer with a cup of white vinegar before using it for any breathable product in order to get any older fabric softener residue out.

    My compromise solution is to wash the waders in warm water in a clean, agitator-less washer with an extra rinse cycle. I then hang them upside down in the shower overnight so they can drain. (This is also a good time to repair any holes with Aquaseal and an excellent time to apply Revivex, which is supposed to go on while the fabric is wet). When they are mostly dry, I then toss them in my dryer for a short time with some heat going to “set” the Revivex coating. You have to be careful not to over-do this or you will mess up the tape, but with a little common sense and a bit of touch, you can effectively make waders look brand new again.