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Reviews > Do It Yourself > Nikwax Tent & Gear Solarwash > Test Report by Brett Haydin
Nikwax Tent & Gear Solarwash
I started backpacking in Wisconsin as a youth, being involved in Boy Scouts programs. As a young adult, I worked at a summer camp leading backpacking, canoeing and mountain biking trips. I now generally take short weekend or day trips. I plan several longer trips each year in different parts of the US, where I typically carry about 40 lb (18 kg). I prefer to be prepared and comfortable, but I have taken lightweight trips as well.
Product Information & Specifications
Other Details provided by Manufacturer
Product DescriptionThe Nikwax Tent & Gear Solarwash is a spray-on, water-based cleaner for technical gear such as backpacks, tents and other fabrics. The manufacturer states that the product will also increase UV protection by 50% in addition to cleaning off dirt and grime. In addition, it can help restore water repellency up to three times. The Tent & Gear Solarwash can be used on cotton, canvas, and synthetic products. The pump design consists of a trigger and nozzle, similar to many household products. Most of the bottle is white, with the exception of the trigger and nozzle which are green and contrast nicely with the rest of the bottle. The nozzle turns to on/off position which is a great feature to prevent accidental use.
Reading the InstructionsThe instructions read quite simple. To summarize, simply erect the tent, spray the wash on evenly, rub the product in well with a damp cloth or sponge and then rinse with clean water using another cloth or sponge. Prior to use, I am told to shake the bottle well and I am advised to wear gloves. When finished, I am to allow the tent or gear to air dry before packing away. The bottle should provide enough wash for 100 sq ft (10 sq m) of fabric. Certainly enough for a couple of tents and more.
I did not find a direct link to the Solarwash on the website as of the writing of this report, however I did find several references in press releases and blog entries on the Nikwax website. While looking for more information on the website, I learned that this product pairs well with the Tent & Gear Solarproof, a separate product that waterproofs the fabric as well as provides additional UV protection.
Initial ImpressionsBecause of the near or below freezing temperatures, I was not able to put the product to an initial test. However, I am excited to give this product a workout and clean my gear before the spring backpacking season takes off here in the Midwest US. I am glad that this comes in a spray bottle. I prefer that to an aerosol can or a packet. I find that the wind does not affect the application as much and that the application is more even. Overall, I am impressed with the product and look forward to testing it!
Field ConditionsOver the testing period, I washed two different tents as well as one backpack that I travel with through airports. I did this at the beginning of the test and then washed one of the tents at the end of the test period to see if there would be any noticeable differences. In the meantime, here is a summary of the trips I took over the test period.
Dinosaur Valley State Park, Texas, USA: I took an overnight trip to a great hidden gem in Central Texas. I hiked a total of 5 mi (8 km) along dirt-packed trails to a primitive campsite. Along the way I saw plenty of neat fossils, including dinosaur tracks! There was a mix of meadows and hardwood forests. The temperature ranged between 65 and 85 F (18 and 29 C) with clear, sunny skies the entire time. No precipitation whatsoever.
Porcupine Mountains, Michigan, USA: This was a (3) day, (2) night backpack in the Upper Peninsula, Michigan. The terrain was quite hilly (I wouldn't call these Mountains, but they are steep!) through a mix of deciduous and hardwood forests. Sections of the trail traveled on rocky shores, but otherwise the terrain was dirt-packed and great spots for tent camping. Temperatures ran between 40 and 80 F (4 and 27 C) with a mix of showers, thunderstorms and sunshine. It rained most of the first night and was in the morning of day two so I had to hike with a wet tent.Total distance was 14 mi (23 km).
Blue Mounds State Park, Wisconsin, USA: I went on an overnight trip near home to a hilly park in central Wisconsin. The trails ran through steep hills in hardwood forests. I hiked a total of 5 mi (8 km). The sky was mostly cloudy and I saw some light rain in the afternoon, but otherwise the temperatures were warm and muggy - 70 to 90 F (21 to 32 C).
Redwoods National Park, California, USA: Checking off a bucket list trip, I took an overnight to the mighty Redwoods in Northern California. I was fortunate to get a last second backcountry permit that led me on a 6 mi (10 km) out and back gaining over 1,600 ft (490 m) in elevation gain through old growth Redwood forests and upland prairies. I had great weather with some light rain, but otherwise perfect temperatures between 55 and 75 F (13 and 24 C).
Lacks Creek Management Area, California, USA: I spent (1) night hiking over an out and back near a mountain biking mecca in Northern California. This trail led me down a dirt-packed trail shared with horses through alpine forests. Temperatures were cool - between 50 and 70 F (10 and 21 C). It was mostly sunny, but there was no precipitation. I hiked a total of 3 mi (5 km) with about 500 ft (150 m) of elevation gain/loss.
My first order of business was to rinse the first tent off. Not that the instructions called for it, but I figured just like washing anything else off, it is probably best to rinse loose dirt off first. I took a note of some areas that looked dirty so that I could be sure to focus on those spots. Once wet, I started praying. The first thing I noticed was that the spray does not come out evenly. Instead it sprayed out in splotches. I thought at first I had the wrong selection on the nozzle, but twisting it around it still sprayed out in bunches. The image to the right shows a close up of how the cleaning solution sprays on. Not knowing how far the cleaning solution goes, I gave the tent a good spray down. Using a damp sponge, I wiped the tent down, paying close attention to areas that were more heavily soiled. Looking again at the images to the right, they show a good before and after of one dirty spot is washed and rinsed.
I'll admit, I am new to washing my gear with commercial products. So taking my time to wipe down the tent fly, it took me all of 10 minutes before I felt like I had washed it well. While I wasn't too concerned about inhaling fumes, I did my best to spray downwind as best as I could. After a good rinse, I wiped down the tent and let it dry for a couple of hours outside before taking it into the garage to hang dry. I did notice an odor to the Solarwash, both outside and in the garage, but it was not a strong or unpleasant odor. I washed the second tent the same way and another hour later I was done with my washing for the day.
I was somewhat skeptical if this would do any better than my usual hose-down-wipe-and-rinse method. Boy was I wrong! I think the pictures capture how well it cleans. So the next question for me was whether it improved any performance in the field. So off I went into the woods. My first trip to Dinosaur Valley State Park in Texas saw plenty of sunshine - actually nothing but sunshine. I wouldn't expect to notice anything after one outing. However the first thing I noticed was that there was no "old tent" smell when I crawled in for the night. That was refreshing! Back in the Midwestern US, I experienced rain in both Michigan and Wisconsin. I've never had a problem with the tents leaking, and this held true. I couldn't really tell if the water shed any better than before, but it certainly wasn't any worse. Two more trips later, my primary tent still looks great and I see no fading in the fabric.
Another piece of gear that needed some serious cleaning was my faithful backpack. This backpack has travelled with me from coast to coast, through wind, rain and snow. Not only that, it is my go-to when traveling by plane. Not only does it have dirt, grime and likely some food stains, it has plenty of scuff marks from being transported along belts and who knows what else. So after a summer of abuse, I decided to wash the backpack. Similar to my tents, I rinsed, sprayed down and then scrubbed the backpack with a damp sponge. Unlike my tent, I had some resilient stains that a sponge simply would not wipe off. I decided to chance it with a soft cleaning brush and some elbow grease. In the three images below, the left image shows the bag lathered in cleaning solution. The middle image shows a close up of the stains with the backpack wetted down for better effect. The image on the right shows the bag after being rinsed and hung to dry for 24 hours. Frankly, this is a dramatic improvement that I doubt I could have gotten with a normal cleaning.
SummaryI am really sold on the Nikwax Tent and Gear Solarwash. It has freshened up my gear closet and made some of my gear look practically new again. I still have just a little more left to clean more gear, but Nikwax can count on me purchasing more next spring to clean up my gear again!
Pros: Easy to use, environmentally safe and extends the UV protection of my gear. Made a noticeable improvement on the smell of my older gear and cleared up most stains.
Cons: Hard to find information on the website.
This concludes this test series I would like to thank Nikwax North America and BackpackGearTest.org for allowing me to test the Tent & Gear Solarwash.
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Reviews > Do It Yourself > Nikwax Tent & Gear Solarwash > Test Report by Brett Haydin
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