How to Wash Walking Trousers

How to wash walking trousers

Most of us invest a lot of time and money into buying our outdoor clothing. After all, our kit isn’t something we lounge around in at home on the settee… well, not always! 

It’s clothing that is designed for a purpose. To keep warm, to keep dry, to keep protected from sun, rain, wind, snow, ice, mud. As such we must treat it with respect.

Someone wise once told me,

Look after your kit, and your kit will look after you.

This very much applies to walking trousers.

This guide will teach you how to wash your walking trousers. It highlights carefully following the care label, using the right cleaning products, washing at low temperatures with short cycles and infrequent tumble drying.

In the market for some new trousers? Read this: The Best 6 Lightweight Walking Trousers

Your shiny new Fjallraven’s might be resilient in outdoor terrain, but expose them to harsh chemicals found in everyday washing detergents, hot water or long spin cycles, and you could find that the trousers that can survive  -10⁰C and torrential rain might not survive a morning at home with you and the washer! 

1. Prepare Yourself

So, you’ve arrived at your resting spot for the night. The last thing anyone wants to do is spend time looking after kit – after all, we are outdoor adventurers, explorers and pioneers, not walking laundrettes!

However, a bit of dirt and grime when getting down and dirty with the natural elements can be expected.

And to be honest, it’s not recommended that you frequently wash high-tech fabrics. A simple brushing down, once the mud has dried, might be all that is needed.

Commonly, the more you wash walking trousers, the shorter their life span.

But eventually, we’ve got to face it – the day we have to wash our high-tech super-performance, windproof, waterproof, breathable, rip-stop walking trousers will come, and the last thing to do is get it wrong. It could cost you your trousers!

It might seem obvious, but if you really do hate dry clean only or hand wash products then don’t buy them. There are a growing number of easy-care products out there now and even some wools can be tossed into the washing machine, as long as you set it to the right programme.

You should also prepare yourself by purchasing the right cleaning products. And the best thing you can prepare yourself for is to be fearless – it really isn’t that difficult!

2. Read the Label

You might be the sort of person who likes to experience the world rather than read about it.

But one thing that might be a good idea to read is the label on your walking trousers! What are the washing instructions?

Reading them and then actually following them are your safest bet to garment longevity.

The manufacturers know the best way to treat the fabric, and the treatments they’ve used on your trousers.

If you’re the sceptical type… or the impatient type… or the frugal type… then you might believe that the hand wash, no detergent or special cleaning product instruction is too time-consuming or too expensive.

Instead, you take the risk of washing your walking trousers with the rest of your washing.

We’ve all done it at some point, accidentally or deliberately, and they’ve come out roughly the same size. But it’s like the man who shot himself in the head and inadvertently cured his bi-polar disease – It worked, but as a result of luck not judgement.

So, if you are a reckless laundry risk-taker I wish you the best of luck, but for those more sensible – here’s some advice.

3. Detergents: What’s safe?

How to wash walking trousers

For most walking trousers you should not use your ordinary biological detergent. Why? Because it will damage the water repellent or waterproof coating and can leave a residue that will affect the breathability of the fabric.

Another word of caution for coated walking trousers is that fabric softener is a fabric destroyer! It will be just as damaging as using a biological detergent.

What about non-biological detergents?

Yes, they’re fine, as long as they are totally non-biological. Often detergents suitable for silk or wool are also ok – unless otherwise stated on the care label.

If you want to give your trousers an intense clean, you can buy a product specifically designed for technical outdoor wear. There are quite a few commercially produced cleaners to choose from that will remove stuff that the non-bios might not.

Another option, and one that is much cheaper,  is to use pure soap flakes.

They are free of harsh chemicals, making them perfect for delicate or natural fabrics. I would recommend soap flakes for specially treated outdoor clothing. They can be used for hand washes or in your machine.

You’ll find that washing your walking trousers with pure soap flakes will have a conditioning effect on them too.

Ooops! I’ve Accidently Used Biological Detergent!

This doesn’t necessarily mean you have ruined your walking trousers.

As soon as you realise, re-wash them in a suitable detergent and then treat them with a re-proofing product, such as Nikwax. You might need to do this more than once to get your trousers back to repelling water effectively.

retreating walking trousers

However, the damage might be irreversible if your trousers have been washed with the wrong detergent multiple times.   

What About Stubborn Stains?

If there is a particularly stubborn stain, pre-soaking might be needed before putting in the wash. Afterwards, gently rub the stain with a little detergent, using tiny circular motions from the centre of the stain outwards.

Can I Iron my Walking Trousers?

Ironing your trousers is not recommended. The heat of the iron can irreparably damage your trousers and affect characteristics like waterproofing.

Pleasingly however, many designs are now crease-resistant and fine if left hanging.

What About Tumble Drying?

You might have heard that tumble drying should be done after every wash to protect the proofing on your trousers.

When you look closely at the manufacturer’s guidelines, this isn’t necessary but they do recommend you tumble dry every so often.

It’s wise to tumble dry on a cool setting and check every 15 minutes the first time, to ensure no damage is being done.

Do I Need to Retreat After Every Wash?

No! Only retreat when you see signs that your trousers aren’t beading water like they used to.

Unnecessary retreating won’t do any harm to your trousers, but the expense might feel like you’ve got a hole in your pocket! That said, retreating is an important part of caring for your trousers to keep them proofed and breathable for years to come.

For more in-depth information on waterproofing and retreating, have a read of GO Outdoors’ waterproofing guide here and Gore-Tex’s guide to restoring repellency here.

Parting Thoughts

I hope this has been helpful and wish you the best of luck with your washing duties. For picking a new pair of trousers, see our top picks here: The Best 6 Lightweight Walking Trousers.

To summarise:

  • Follow the instructions on the care label. Generally speaking, cool wash at 30⁰C for a short cycle.
  • Use the correct detergent. Pure soap flakes, other non-biological detergents and commercially made products for outdoor clothing will do the job.
  • Don’t use fabric conditioners.
  • Dry naturally most of the time, but every once in a while, tumble drying is ok.
  • Don’t iron.
  • Retreat with a reproofing product every now and then.

Caring for your walking trousers should not be a scary thought, just keep in mind these simple tips, and they’ll remain an effective part of your gear locker for many adventures to come.

See you on the mountain.