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Reviews > Do It Yourself > Nikwax Tent & Gear Solarwash > Test Report by joe schaffer
Nikwax Tent & Gear Solarwash
NAME: Joe Schaffer
HOME: Bay Area, California USA
I enjoy California's central Sierras, camping every month with a goal to match my age in nights out each year. For comfort I lug tent, mattress, chair and such. Typical summer trips run 5-8 days; 40 lb (18 kg), about half food and water related; about 5 miles (8 km) per hiking day in the bright and sunny granite in and around Yosemite. I winter base camp most often at 6,000 to 7,000 ft (1,800 to 2,000 m); 2 to 3 nights; 50 lb (23 kg); a mile or so (1.6 km) on snowshoes.
Product: Tent & Gear Solarwash
Volume: 17 fl oz (500 ml)
Features: (from manufacturer)
•Extends fabric life
•Not tested on animals
•Apply to wet or dry fabric
Directions: Spray on, rub in, rinse or wipe off. Wear gloves. Prevent overspray from contacting work surface.
Coverage: Approximately 1.7 oz (50 ml) per 10 sf (1 sm)
Gross Weight: 20 3/8 oz (577 gm)
Length: 9 1/2 in (24.1 cm)
Circumference: 2 5/8 in (6.6 cm)
The large spray bottle uses trigger-driven pump pressure to extract and apply the product. Product is claimed to have properties that will extend gear life by 50%. Application seems not particularly onerous in steps required. Directions suggest preventing overspray from reaching the work surface, which in my case will be concrete and I'm already expecting to find out what happens when that suggestion is ignored.
No website address on the package enclosures touting the product virtues! Welcome to the '80's. Query address is printed on bottle label, so I'll just take a pill and relax. One of the enclosures was a decal, which I like to apply to my bear can to lessen the area exposed to sun. I go to lengths to minimize solar radiation on my gear, so the product immediately got my attention.
Any of the fabric applications I've ever used are quite tedious; this product would seem no more so than what I've tried. I wonder why I should wear gloves; and then does that mean maybe a mask would be a good idea. Living in a woefully congested urban area I wouldn't mind getting my lungs cleaned out, but getting waterproofed maybe not such a good idea. I wonder what is a "large" surface area in the context of a tent--directions say to work in sections if the area is large. A tent is large compared to a backpack, for example. I might rather be instructed to work in sections of X sf/sm. I don't know how much product to apply, though the instruction to rub in and then wipe off suggests saturating the fabric. The coverage estimate is probably as good a guess as can be practically given. Maybe "application for dummies" would suggest that about 1/2 of the bottle would be required on a typical two-person backpacking tent fly. (Maybe I could do that arithmetic, but facing such a devilish chore would almost certainly get the bottle put back on the retail shelf.) I don't know how long the product should/can be left standing, though the working in sections instruction suggests maybe not all that long. Does the product merely supplant seam sealer; or is it an effective substitute? Is a second application likely to enhance product performance?
The product name suggests it is primarily for sunscreening a fabric while at the same time cleaning it. Two-for-one always seems attractive. If it strengthens and waterproofs and life-extends the fabric as well, that makes it pretty fabulously attractive and sets quite a high bar of expectation.
I favor the pump as I don't like breathing potentially nasty propellants, along with product particles. I know my old grumpy fingers are going to act out on a large piece of fabric, like a tent fly.
As I intend to put my tent fly at risk, I forced myself to read directions. The bottle isn't big enough for a tome and I bravely waded in. Nothing in the application seems evident that should exceed even my minimal capacity to follow instruction.
But I am befuddled at the admonition buried deep in the label patter to use Nikwax Tent & Gear SolarProof on synthetic tents. I can't help but wonder what the difference might be. The SolarWash product label says it is for tents. The sub-text of the product identification says it is for all weatherproof textiles. This is one reason I don't like to read labels--I'm no longer blissfully ignorant and now mired in conflicting information. In the history of the world someone did make natural fiber tents, but then came the 1950's and the world went to nylon and it's cousins thereafter. Perhaps this is a prototype label, but if so, it didn't get proofed very well. Maybe it's strife between marketing and technical. I'm confused about whether this product is actually for tents (or backpacks). I doubt any backpacker has non-synthetic gear and I confess to assuming the product would be for use on backpacking tents and packs. I carry on because such gear does not come cheap and I wouldn't want stuff on it that might somehow diminish its durability. Also, if the stuff doesn't work on synthetics, then purchasing the product for that fabric would be at least a waste of money and of time spent in application.
That vented, I'll set myself to getting my tent fly prepared for an outing in a few days where snow is forecast at 100% with three to five inches (8-12 cm) the first evening. I'll apply the product to the right half only. The fly is probably a third used up. If I get 40 days during the test period, degradation of the untreated half would presumably advance noticeably beyond the treated half.
1. Mar 22, 2018: Garage floor, garage door down (no wind). 55 F (13 C), 62% humidity. Application.
2. Mar 24-28, 2018: Henness Ridge, West Yosemite, California, USA. Four days. Snowshoe backpacking 6,000 ft (1,830 m). 25-50 F (-4 to 10 C). Bit of snow first day, turning to sunny.
3. Apr 3-6, 2018: Gooseberry Trail, Stanislaus National Forest, California. Four days. Snowshoe backpacking 7,000 ft (2,130 m). 30-50 F (-1 to 10 C). Sunny for several days, then rainy last day.
4. Apr 26-30, 2018: Kibbie Creek, Yosemite National Park. Backpacking five days. 6,500 ft (1,980 m). 30-50 F (-1 to 10 C). Slight trace of freezing precipitation one night, damp all four nights; sunny most days.
5. May 7-12, 2018: Kibbie Ridge, Yosemite National Park. Backpacking six days, campsites at 6,300, 6,700 and 8,000 ft (1,920, 2,040 and 2,440 m). 35-75 F (2 - 24 C; sunny to partly cloudy days.
6. May 23-29, 2018: Emigrant Wilderness, California. Seven days: One car camping at 7,200 ft (2,200 m) and six backpacking at 8,000 ft (2,400 m). Temps 32-70 F (0-21 C), partly sunny to cloudy and raining, light wind.
7. June 23-29, 2018. Emigrant Wilderness, California. Seven days, 12 mi (19 k) backpacking. Camping at 7,100-7,600 ft (2,160-2,315 m). Leave weight 41 lb (19 kg), return 31 lb (14 kg). Temps 45-80 F (7-27 C). No wind or rain; cloudless, sunny days.
1. Garage, application. After spit-polishing the floor and putting down newspaper, I spent about 25 minutes spraying the product on the top side of the fly and then wiping it in with a piece of terry cloth, in four sections of a 'clean' fly. (It's been used enough times it could have residue of something on it, but the last outing was wet. The fly got wiped pretty thoroughly to aid in drying for the trip out.) The fluid is not 'stiff' and perhaps because I divvied the work into four sections my fingers did not get tired pumping the product out. I was also able to pay a little better attention to what I was doing. The product does not spray on evenly but comes out like loose-clumpy shaving cream. One can see very easily that simply spraying will definitely not work. Wiping is required to spread the product and on the thin, hard fabric it smoothed out very easily. Compared to other fabric treatments I've used it goes on much easier. I wiped it around enough to feel satisfied the product was 'worked' into the fabric. The worked sections appeared to lose the glistening appearance of wet within just a few minutes. The product was easy to apply in this manner. The odor is not objectionable, though certainly noticeable and I will hope that it does not persist after a thorough exposure to the elements. I don't know for certain whether it is sticky. My gloves seemed to stick a bit, but they would to any moisture. The wiping rag did not coagulate.
For 1/2 of my tent fly I used 4 1/8 oz (122 ml) of product by weight. I did not think to weigh the wiping cloth before I used it, so I don't know how much product got absorbed by that. The calculation hurt my head tremendously, but half of my fly comprises about 25 sq ft (2.3 sq m). The recommended dose for that area is about 4 1/4 oz (126 ml), so eyeballing what seemed like the right amount turns out to be very close to the suggested amount.
Pre-treatment the fly weighed 22 1/2 oz (639 g). Twenty-two hours later, 54 F (12 C) 58% humidity, it weighed 22 5/8 oz (641 g); adding a scant 1/8 oz (3.5 g). Likely, then, a treatment on the whole fly of approximately 50 sq ft (4.6 sq m) would add merely 1/4 oz (7 g). This statement results from one test application on one-half of one fly, so I wouldn't compete with a Stanford statistician to see who wins an argument over scientific validity.
Though as it turned out I think it wasn't at all necessary, I wore glasses and a mask in anticipation of overspray drifting in the still air, which did not happen. Bad aim could be an issue, but I felt no mist.
For storage I turned the bottle upside down and cleared the pump. This should prevent the pump from being clogged next time I want to use it.
2. Yosemite. A couple slight impressions come to note. The treated half of the fly definitely feels different; kind of silky-slick compared to the untreated side. The fabric feels more supple, though whether that's because it is or just seems that way because it's slicker I couldn't say. Staring at one end of the tent in a certain light I was able to convince myself that the treated side looked cleaner. If I didn't know that a cleaner had been applied, I don't know if I would have the same perception. One objective observation, which could easily be overstated, was that while the fly never got saturated and was in the main fully dry, I did count three drops of water on the shady end of the untreated half and no drops of water on the treated side. I didn't notice any residual odor of product.
I didn't keep track of when the tent was in shade or cloud cover, but I'd guess it got about 15 hours of direct sun.
3. Gooseberry. I packed up in a steady rain that started 12 hours earlier. Could have had a wolverine in the tent and I probably wouldn't have noticed whether it smelled. I did leave the fly to dry in the house for several days. After a couple days I realized I'd been noticing a slight, unfamiliar odor whenever I passed by the area of the fly. On sticking my nose up against the treated part of the fly (right hand side) I determined it was that. I didn't notice it in the previous outings and did spend a lot of time in the tent. This is now 17 days after treatment, 8 days outdoors and 12 hours of pretty steady rain. The tent was in sun for about 20 hours on this trip. My impression at this point is that if I felt the product was doing anything good for the fly (yet to be determined, of course) I would not hesitate to use it. The odor is not a stench and is not a chemical burn to the nose or eyes, but when I get within a foot of it indoors I can smell it. So I'd have no qualms about treating a pair of pants, but I'm feeling reluctant to put the product on a jacket.
4. Kibbie Creek. All four nights of this trip were very damp with dew all night on the top side of the fly and condensation on the bottom. The fourth night developed freezing rain around 9pm that remained on the fly until it and the frozen condensation underneath melted off about 12 hours later. Most days were fairly cloudy, with one day being mostly sunny. Between clouds and shade the tent probably got about 12 hours of sun.
5. Kibbie Ridge. The tent got a good chill over night and then warmed up to as much as 82 F (28 C) inside. Two nights were damp and three were dry. The last night saw the fly tugged all night long in winds of probably 10 mph (16 kph) sustained with frequent gusts of probably as much as 25 mph (40 kph); having been forecast to reach 57 mph (92 kph) on ridge tops. I wouldn't expect any damage from such a breeze and there was none, so no impression as to whether the treatment has affected the polyester fly's strength. Accounting for shade and clouds I would estimate the fly got about 16 hours of direct sun on this trip.
6. Emigrant. This outing offered a full range of conditions from hot sun to rain and frost on the fly. I would estimate 27 hours of direct sun on this trip (and about an equal amount of rain).
My partner on this outing has a two-layer waterproof-breathable jacket where the inner layer has worn completely off in the area where the hood attaches. She loves the jacket for how light it is, but not for the leaks around the neck. We expected rain, so I slathered the product on the worn area, both sides of the fabric. While I cowered in the tent through most of the weather, she ventured out a few times. She said the jacket did not leak.
7. Emigrant. Sun shone brightly and persistently on this trip and I'd estimate 31 hours of direct sun.
Estimated direct sun on treated fly: 121 hours over 33 days. I'd guess a 70D coated polyester fly can tolerate about 500 hours of sun before being rendered either useless or to the shelf of gear that cannot be trusted on longer trips or difficult weather. I don't know how many hours the fly had endured before treatment; or at what point to expect the treated side to look different from the untreated side. So far no difference can be discerned. The fly was already waterproof before the treatment. It seems the fly was either completely wet or fully dry whenever I paid much attention to it, so I can't say I noticed any difference in the level of saturation on the material's top (uncoated) side.
Summary: Application is not at all difficult; no noxious odor developed; no 'staining' or blotching appeared; and the fabric does not seem to be changed in any material or negative way. I suspect it might take several years to accumulate enough hours of exposure to form a conclusion about the product's ability to retard solar damage to my fly. The product appears to have restored satisfactory water resistance to worn areas of a two-layer jacket.
a) Environmentally efficacious
b) Feature-rich if it works
c) Relatively easy application
Thank you Nikwax and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test this product. This concludes the reporting of testing this product.
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