If you’ve ever worn a waterproof jacket or other waterproof garment, you’ve probably come into contact with PFCs – perhaps without knowing it. But what are PFCs, why are they used, and what about PFC-free outdoor products?
What are PFCs?
By PFCs, we mean “perfluorinated and polyfluorinated chemicals. You’ll also see them referred to as “fluorocarbons.” PFCs are a wide range of man-made chemicals used in everything from non-stick coatings on pans to the foam in fire extinguishers.
Why are PFCs used in outdoor equipment?
Some types of PFC are exceptionally good at repelling water, dirt and oil. This is why they are widely used in water repellent treatments (DWR – Durable Water Repellent) for outdoor clothing and equipment. These specific PFCs lower the surface tension of a fabric such that water forms on it in droplets (beads) rather than penetrating it. DWR treatments are typically used on waterproof fabrics to keep them breathable and prevent saturation. But they are also used to treat everything from gloves to backpacks to tents.
Are PFCs harmful to the environment?
PFCs do not occur naturally in the environment. They unfortunately often leak into the water system during manufacturing – or directly from clothing – where they then accumulate through the food chain. They persist in our environment for a very long time and are dispersed through rivers, seas and the air. Even in ice and Arctic animals, PFCs have been found. There are different types of PFCs and some are more toxic and harmful than others. It can currently only be destroyed by burning at high temperatures. Like BPA, it affects reproduction and possibly causes uncontrolled cell division (cancer) in humans and animals. So clearly, we would rather not use these PFCs anymore….
What does PFC-free mean?
When outdoor clothing and gear is described as PFC-free, it usually means that the clothing has been treated with a DWR that repels water without the use of PFCs. These DWRs can be silicone-based, wax-based or even plant-based.
We at NOMAD are proud to announce that starting in 2022 all NOMAD sleeping bags, sleeping mats, backpacks and bags will be 100% PFC free. An important step in our journey towards sustainability and towards building a more and more eco-friendly brand. NOMAD uses PFC-free coatings & wax to make products water-repellent or water-resistant. A key partner in this is Nikwax, a supplier of durable wax coatings and water-repellent down.
Is PFC-free outdoor clothing more difficult to maintain?
All DWR-treated outdoor gear must be washed and cleaned regularly to repel water effectively. When dirt, oil and other contaminants get into treated fabrics, they prevent water from beading effectively onto the outer surface. Because PFC-free DWRs are not oil or dirt repellent (unlike the old PFC treatments), you may have to wash and re-impregnate your gear a bit more often. Luckily, it’s easy to do, just grab a bottle of Nikwax and you’ll be ready for any rain that comes your way!