On The Line: Heidi Dale Allen of Nikwax
Extending the Life of Your Outdoor Gear
Nikwax was the first company in the world to produce a range of water-based products for restoring waterproofing at home. Not only do their products avoid emitting harmful solvents into the atmosphere, but they’re also easy to use, allowing outdoorsmen and women to reproof their clothes easily in a washing machine. The range of Nikwax products has grown to encompass systems for a multitude of uses; from ropes to tents, clothing, shoes, and almost anything that needs regular help to maintain its resistance to water.
50 CAMPFIRES: Let’s start at the beginning. For those who haven’t heard of it, what is Nikwax?
HEIDI: Nikwax has been making cleaning and waterproofing products for outdoor clothing, footwear, and equipment for 40 years. Our products help people maximize their investment in their often-expensive outdoor gear, by extending its useful life. All Nikwax products provide high performance, with clean chemistry. Our products are water-based, biodegradable, PFC-free, aerosol-free, and free of harmful solvents and VOCs.
50 CAMPFIRES: In everyday camper’s terms, how does it work?
HEIDI: Many people don’t know how to care for their outdoor gear. But by cleaning and re-waterproofing items like rain jackets, hiking boots, sleeping bags, tents, etc., you can extend their life, saving money over time.
For example, most jackets have a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) that causes water to bead up and roll off, keeping you dry. Over time, dirt, oils, detergents, and campfire smoke can inhibit both the jackets’ ability to shed water and to breathe. You’ll notice the jacket ‘wetting out.’ This is when it’s time to clean and re-waterproof, and Nikwax makes specialized products for both cleaning and re-waterproofing.
50 CAMPFIRES: From its origin as a leather waterproofer for hiking boots, what does the Nikwax line cover today?
HEIDI: We make cleaning and waterproofing products for almost any type of outdoor gear that exists!
- Rain jackets
- Down-filled items (jackets, sleeping bags, etc.)
- Synthetic-filled items
- Polar fleece
- Waxed cotton
- Fabric shoes
- Leather shoes
- Suede shoes
- Base layers & activewear
50 CAMPFIRES: For what kind of garments and fabrics is Nikwax appropriate? Should you use it on garments built with waterproof breathable membranes like GORE-TEX®?
HEIDI: It is perfect for garments with waterproof breathable membranes like GORE-TEX®. We make products for lots of types of fabrics: waterproof/breathable, softshell, polar fleece, down-filled, synthetic-filled, cotton, leather, even merino wool and synthetic active apparel and sportswear.
50 CAMPFIRES: It looks like you have a product that will actually take a pair of cotton denim blue jeans and make them waterproof! Is that right? How does it work?
HEIDI: Cotton Proof will add water-repellency to cotton. It won’t make your jeans as waterproof as rain pants, but it will make water bead up and roll off, and will significantly reduce water absorption.
50 CAMPFIRES: Since this issue of 50 Campfires is focused on making the best of winter outdoors, your introduction of a down fill for winter clothing fits right in. Is this actual down or a down-like synthetic that you created?
HEIDI: We have created a down treatment called Nikwax Hydrophobic Down (NHD). It is a Durable Water Repellant applied to raw down that is then added to garments and sleeping bags at the factory level by outdoor brands. NHD is a PFC-free, responsibly sourced water-repellent down fill that performs to the highest industry standards for testing.
Something else fun for your readers is that we make a cleaner, Down Wash Direct, and a waterproofer, Down Proof that can be used in a washing machine at home. So, even if you don’t own waterproof down, you can add water-repellency to your down jacket, vest, or sleeping bag. Just note, with down, it is important to only wash in a front-loading washer, as agitators can be abusive to down items.
50 CAMPFIRES: The big knock against traditional down is it’s useless when it’s wet. Has Nikwax come up with a way to make down work when it’s wet?
HEIDI: Absolutely! We have even floated a sleeping bag on water to prove how effective Nikwax Hydrophobic Down is at keeping the user dry.
50 CAMPFIRES: For car camping families in a big chunk of the country, we’re sort of in the heart of the off-season. As they are planning their spring and summer adventures, what can they be doing to make sure their camping gear is ready to go when they are?
HEIDI: Give it a good cleaning and waterproofing when you pull it out of storage. This will ensure your gear is ready to go and perform at its best! Ideally, you would clean it before you put it away for the season, so it’s not stored dirty.
For tents, we make a product called Tent & Gear Solarproof. It adds water-repellency, AND helps protect against UV damage, which is a big killer of tents. Exposure to UV rays can quickly damage the fabric. By adding UV protection, Tent & Gear
Solarproof will effectively double the fabric’s useful life.
50 CAMPFIRES: What are your best tips to care for and waterproof outdoor footwear and garments?
HEIDI: Step #1, keep them clean! In footwear, caked on dirt can dry out leather, causing premature cracking. It can also abrade fabric shoes and wear the fibers down faster. With waterproof breathable garments, keeping them clean assures they stay waterproof and breathable by maintaining the coating. It also helps extend their life, as body oils and sweat attract bacteria, which eats away at the linings. We see lots of jackets that delaminate due to this.
For footwear, we recommend cleaning with our Footwear Cleaning Gel and then re-waterproofing with a product that fits the fabric or leather of your footwear (Fabric & Leather Proof, Nubuck & Suede Proof, or Waterproofing Wax for Leather.) You can also use Sandal Wash to clean and deodorize your insoles.
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