Forgetting to wear gloves in the winter is like forgetting to put on pants: you’ll notice as soon as you walk outside. And wearing wet gloves is nearly as bad as having none at all. By properly drying, washing, and sealing your pair, you can guarantee that they’ll protect your hands long after one season. We talked to two glove experts, Vermont Glove owner Sam Hooper and Mainers owner Jeff Faye, about the differences between leather and synthetic materials and the best ways to care for each.
Breaking In Your Gloves
The first step after buying a new pair, Hooper says, is to break them in on the slopes in both wet and dry conditions so they start forming to your hands. Get used to the fit, dexterity, warmth, and feel of the sewn-in or removable liners, and notice any shrinkage if your pair is made of leather.
Drying and Storage
After a day on the hill, your gloves will retain moisture, even if they don’t feel soaked. Whether they’re damp or dripping, it’s important to completely dry them out after each use. Air-drying is best. But if you’re on a multi-day ski trip and you don’t have at least 24 hours in a warm environment, Hooper says that slipping them over a pair of boot dryers, like DryGuy’s portable dryers ($30), is the next-best method.
Both Hooper and Faye warn against throwing gloves in a machine dryer. “Not only can the movement lead to the bunching of insulation, but gloves have a lot of parts, small seams, and membranes that can be stressed by both mechanical agitation and heat,” Faye says. Highly concentrated sources of warmth—from propping them up on an air vent or near a woodstove—can also break down durable water-repellent (DWR) membranes in both synthetic and leather gloves.
The same damage can occur if you leave your gloves on the dashboard of your car or in direct sunlight, Hooper says. Similarly, storing them in your trunk will prolong their retention of moisture and can cause mildew and a stench.
Washing, Conditioning, and Re-Waterproofing
Just like your hands dry out in winter, leather gloves do, too. But all leathers are not created equal, Hooper says. Cow, goat, deer, and sheep leathers differ in durability and softness and contain varying amounts of lanolin—a natural wax that keeps the material from getting brittle. After use in cold, dry conditions, that barrier needs replenishing. “You’re going to find that a glove’s grain breaks down so much faster if you just run it through the wringer without giving it some TLC,” says Hooper.
Every month, Hooper applies a leather-care product to his gloves. He recommends Chamberlain’s Leather Milk products (from $17), Filson Original Leather Conditioner ($18), Nikwax Conditioner for Leather ($8.50), or a general mink oil found online or at some shoe stores. With the gloves on, rub the products in like you’d rub lotion on your hands. Some brands, like Burton and Hestra, may include a sample pack of treatment attached to the tag. Hooper says to read the manufacturer’s directions to determine which care is best.
He also water-seals his gloves twice a season to prevent them from wetting out while he’s skiing. The best practice is to water-seal right after a conditioning. “You want to make sure the oils are replenished before you seal them up, because by sealing them up, you’re blocking oil’s ability to permeate the leather,” he says.
Use a water sealant like Nikwax Waterproofing Wax for Leather ($9). While some waterproofing agents are designed to be sprayed on or wiped on without baking, Hooper uses the beeswax-based Sno-Seal Wax ($8), which can be baked into the gloves using an oven or other heat source. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for best results.
It’s tempting to toss your synthetic gloves into the wash along with your ski pants and jacket. But don’t, says Faye. While some brands say you can clean their gloves in a washing machine, Faye warns that, as with leather gloves, machines can ruin the membranes and bunch up the liners. His brand, Mainers, is launching a winter glove in November 2020 based off the design it has manufactured for the U.S. military and NASA for nearly 40 years.
He also advises against using regular laundry detergent, because it can leave behind hydrophobic and hydrophilic components that will render any waterproofing you add ineffective. Though invisible, synthetic gloves’ waterproof coating is their most important feature, Faye says. “Once that protection is gone, water starts getting into the insulation and ruining the properties.” At least once a season, Faye says, sponge a waterproofing agent, like Nikwax Glove Proof ($9), onto clean gloves. Wait five minutes for it to penetrate the surface, then wipe off any excess.
Hand- and spot-washing synthetic gloves at least once a season with a soap made for technical fabrics, like Nikwax Tech Wash ($10 for ten ounces), will keep them clean and breathable, which helps prevent wetting out.
“After washing, stick your hands back in your gloves to ensure everything is in the proper position, then air-dry,” Faye says. Now your gloves are ready to offer your hands another winter’s worth of warmth.
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