oahu, hawaii

Durable Water Repellent just ain’t what it used to be

Potentially dangerous chemicals in DWR are being phased out, but does that mean your hardshell works as well?

I recently noticed my jacket wasn’t beading water like it used to. An Arc’teryx Alpha FL, I’ve tried all types of washing and Gore-Tex specific detergents, as well as applying Durable Water Repellent as per the instructions. I tried re-applying it in different ways; wet, dry, low heat, high heat. No difference. Water soaks into the face fabric, which stays mostly waterproof, but makes it heavy and cold.

So, I wanted to make sure my jacket was performing as it was supposed to and contacted Arc’teryx Customer Support. What they said was intriguing indeed and enlightening.

Apparently there’s a family of chemicals used in DWR called fluorocarbons. Within the past few years, a certain version of this chemical has been found to be toxic to be the environment and humans. Unfortunately, the chemical version, referred to as C8, beaded water on fabrics really well, but it’s also the one that may be potentially toxic. News to me, but I can dig up articles as early as 2012.

Thankfully, it’s mostly been replaced with another version that seems to be less harmful to the environment, as mentioned in this Patagonia post, Our DWR Problem. Basically, the bonds that keep the chemical together break down easier and that means less presence in the environment or your body, but also less life-span as it applies to your jacket. The DWR wears out faster or doesn’t bead water as well. There’s always more to be said about if it’s still bad or not, though I’m glad progress is being made.

So, what do I use for DWR now?

I try not to worry but whenever possible, I don’t mind getting rid of excess chemicals I don’t need or ones that could be harmful. I won’t tell you what to do, but I know I’m going to seek out DWRs that may use better alternatives. As far as I can tell, NikWax and Granger’s make products that follow suit, so I’m going to give them a try and see how they repel water.

It’s a relief to know my jacket is still working as it should but I’m sad to know it might not work as well as when I first bought it. I suppose to plus-side is far better.

Please keep in mind, I’m not expert in chemistry and have only been following this issue for a short time, so hopefully I haven’t misstated any facts above. Feel free to correct me if so.


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