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What does PFC-Free mean and why is it important?

While many of us enjoy getting back to nature in the great outdoors, we might not realise that the PFCs used to make our outdoor gear waterproof are anything but natural, and have a nasty habit of leaking into our environment during production, use and disposal, and contaminating our blood, water, air and food.

What are PFCs?

PFC stands for perfluorinated compound, a family of synthetic chemicals with water and oil-repellent properties that led to their use in making a range of products waterproof.

When first developed, PFCs seemed like an ideal solution in creating a waterproof layer that prevented moisture from entering a manufactured product. This made them the obvious choice for waterproofing anything from non-stick cookware to takeaway boxes, carpets and toiletries. And of course, outdoor clothing.  

PFCs used to waterproof clothing

When added to a fabric to make durable water-repellent (DWR) treatments for outdoor clothing and equipment, PFCs raise the surface tension of the fabric so that water droplets form beads on its surface and roll off, rather than being absorbed. 

DWR treatments with this water-repellent finish give the fabric both water-repellent and breathable characteristics and are used to create waterproof surfaces on clothing, tents, rucksacks, sleeping bags and footwear.

What does PFC-free mean?

In order to describe outdoor clothing and equipment as PFC-free, it should have been treated with a PFC-free water repellent alternative which could be silicon-based, wax-based or even plant-based. 

The latest fabric technologies can offer dirt- and water-repellent impregnation without fluorocarbon compounds. They won’t release chemical compounds that are harmful to the environment and health when worn or washed, which also means no accumulation of non-degradable chemical compounds in the environment.

Does PFC-free mean worse performance?

No. PFC-free alternatives are also very effective at repelling water but aren’t usually as durable, meaning you’d need to apply a waterproofing spray to rejuvenate the DWR more frequently.

You might find you’d need to wash your PFC-free gear a bit more regularly too, purely because the DWR isn’t as dirt or oil-repellent as a PFC DWR. 

Are PFCs harmful to the environment?

In a word, yes. PFCs can’t be broken down by natural processes. Known as ‘forever chemicals’, these synthetics can take as long as 1,000 years to degenerate. In the meantime, they can make their way into waterways and the natural environment – including our own bodies and those of other living organisms. 

While the direct risk to consumers from using PFC-treated clothing is minimal, the manufacturing process for PFC-treated clothing is responsible for releasing these substances into local waterways. Because PFCs don’t break down in the environment and can be easily transported in air and water, any release of these chemicals contributes to global background pollution for everyone.

PFC-free clothing from The Outdoors Company

We stock a range of PFC-free clothing and accessories at The Outdoors Company as part of our new Eco product range, offering more sustainable options to those looking to purchase premium outdoor clothing.

Find out more about our personalisation service, or apply for a trade account and find PFC-free clothing options for your business.

Product Carousel:

The North Face Jester –

The North Face Vault –

Rab Downpour Eco Jacket –

Osprey Quasar –

Osprey Arcane Large Daypack –

Fjallreven Re-Kanken –

Patagonia M’s Torrentshell 3L Jacket –

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