Polartec Removes PFAS From All Products

Water repellency will be achieved using a more sustainable formula.

snowboarder in Japan
World champion snowboarder Lewis Hamilton heads up a mountain in Japan in a waterproof jacket.

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If you buy a piece of performance wear or fleece from a major outdoor retailer or sporting gear company, there's a good chance it was made by Polartec. For decades the U.S.-based company has supplied brands like Arc'teryx, Patagonia, Under Armour, Adidas, Black Diamond, Carhartt, Fila, prAna, and more with highly engineered fabrics that stand up to hard use and extreme elements. 

Now the company announced a big change that is sure to please many people. It has officially eliminated the use of PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl) chemicals from all of its fabrics. These chemicals are typically used to inhibit stains, repel oil, and create water resistance and waterproofness, but they are known to be harmful to the environment. (PFAS are used by other manufacturers to create non-stick coatings on cookware and food wrappers, to improve consistency and shine in cosmetics, and to protect carpets, furniture, and more.)

Because of how PFAS are constructed—using a chain of carbon and fluorine atoms, which is one of the strongest chemical bonds possible—they do not break down in the natural environment, thus earning the nickname of "forever chemicals." They persist, sticking around for decades (if not centuries), contaminating drinking water and soil and entering human bodies, where they have been linked to a range of health concerns. Exposure to PFAS may cause obesity, cancer, thyroid problems, low birth weights, and compromised immune systems, among other problems.

Meanwhile, Polartec says its innovative PFAS-free alternative "offers zero loss of durability or water repellency." In the words of Mike Rose, Polartec VP of Product Development, "Trial results have exceeded even our expectations. There is no loss of performance." 

The company declined to offer details when contacted by Treehugger, saying it "can't comment on the specifics of the non-PFAS DWR treatment itself, as that is considered Polartec's intellectual property, but we can say that Polartec has eliminated PFAS in its DWR treatments across its line of performance fabrics."

A spokesperson added, "The use of non-PFAS DWR treatments is a part of Polartec’s ever-growing Eco-Engineering initiatives and Milliken & Company’s (Polartec’s parent company) long-term targets for corporate responsibility. Polartec is ahead of the curve of popular opinion and legislation, and [in] giving customers what they want."

For those familiar with performance wear, Gear Junkie reports that the new treatment will be used in Polartec's Hardface, Power Shield, Power Shield Pro, NeoShell, and Windbloc products. The technology will also extend to fleece and insulation treatments on products like Thermal Pro and Alpha.

Gear Junkie maintains that this will have a significant ripple effect on the outdoor industry because Polartec is such a huge supplier. Not only does it supply many brands, but the entire US military also purchases Polartec clothing. 

Some outdoor gear companies have already ditched the PFAS, such as Deuter, Jack Wolfskin, Vaude, and more. (See this ever-evolving list by PFAS Central, a project of Green Science Policy.) Alternative products like Nikwax, DetraPel, Green Oil (petrochemical-free bicycle maintenance), Toko Nordic ski wax, Fjällräven Greenland wax, and Hawk Tools Fabric Weatherproofer bar have cropped up in recent years as proof that reliable weather protection can be had without PFAS. 

With Polartec's announcement, it will be hard for any company to justify the continued use of PFAS. This is a game changer.