Will fabric softeners destroy performance fabrics?

Much of my clothing made with high-performance fabrics, such as Coolmax, states that you should not use fabric softeners or dryer sheets. Why is that? If they are accidentally dried with a dryer sheet will they return to normal after the next wash or are the performance aspects ruined? Joe Helm Canal Winchester, Ohio

Sep 18, 2003
Outside Magazine
A: Sheet-style fabric softeners emit a wax-like substance that adheres to the fabric, making it feel softer and reducing static build-up. But, wax also reduces the fabric's ability to absorb moisture. Mrs. Gear insists on using softener sheets with the bath towels. True, the towels feel softer, but they don't absorb water as well after a shower. That...drives...me....nuts!!!!!!!!

Performance fabrics are designed to wick water away from the skin through a combination of weave, thread material, and, sometimes, special coatings. The softener mucks up that design, so the fabric won't absorb moisture as well and thus can't wick it as well. Result: Sweat pools on your skin and feels lousy and cold.

But no harm—the stuff comes right off. Just re-wash any fabrics that were softened, and you'll be fine.

Overall, I've found that today's performance fabrics are extremely easy to care for. In olden days, for instance, one had to be cautious with polypropylene underwear, as the stuff would literally melt at a surprisingly low temperature. You'd toss an item into the clothes dryer, and a half-hour later take out a small compact ball of dark blue plastic. What a drag. But nowadays I toss everything in together, cotton and Coolmax alike, and dry it on the same temp. No problems.

But if I have any control over it, I DON'T use softening sheets.

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