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October 24, 2023

Wet weather clothes

Keeping dry when the weather is wet and raining is a centuries old problem. As the weather turns we’re reaching for outer layers that provide protection from wind and rain, but how are our clothes made waterproof? 

PFAS in waterproof clothing 

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a large group of chemicals first used for their water repelling properties in the 1950’s when 3M launched Scotch Guard. Its use became widespread in the manufacturing process to coat fabrics and furnishings to give water and stain resistance. Gore-Tex appeared in the 60’s using a thin fluoropolymer membrane to repel water and allow good breathability.


Clothing manufacturers quickly cottoned on and it’s common for outer layers of garments to be coated with a water repellent treatment, often containing PFAS chemicals. Today, they are used in the manufacture of thousands of water proof garments. Chemicals from the PFAS group repel water and cause it to bead on the surface of the fabric, rather than penetrate the garment. PFASs are widely used for water and stain resistance in thousands of everyday products, despite an industry wide call to restrict the use of PFAS in Europe due to sustainability and health concerns. 


Health concerns about PFAS 

There are thousands of chemicals in the PFAS group. They are known as “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down and persist indefinitely in the environment. We are exposed to PFAS in drinking water, but wearing waterproof clothing treated with PFAS is also a concern.  


PFAS has been detected in human urine samples – they are suspected to disrupt the functions of the endocrine system, and have been linked with higher incidences of cancer, bone density, reproduction, diabetes, and liver damage. Read our PFAS insights guide to learn more about them.


What are the alternatives to stay dry? 

Manufacturers are responding to the call to produce products that offer good protection from water without relying on PFAS, but its use remains widespread. To find products manufactured without using PFAS chemicals, take a closer look at product labels and visit manufacturers websites to find out what they are using to manufacture their products. A recent ‘Which’ guide published in March gives a useful consumer summary.


If you prefer to avoid chemicals altogether there are some chemical free alternatives: 

  • Waxed organic cotton offers some water protection – ensure the wax is free from harmful chemicals.
  • Look for clothing Merino wool coats made using organic boiled wool. 
  • Add lanolin to your own wool to improve water resistance. 
  • Look for natural organic wellington rubber boots. 
  • If you prefer to wear clothing or footwear treated with waterproofing chemicals, wear a layer of clothing agianst your skin made from organic materials such as cotton or bamboo. 


Read more about sustainable clothing without chemicals.



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