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What is Gore-Tex Fabric: Properties, How its Made and Where

by Boris Hodakel  • November 25, 2020 • 7 min read

Fabric name GORE-TEX
Fabric also known as GORE-TEX waterproof fabric
Fabric composition ePTFE fabric (based on Teflon)
Fabric breathability High
Moisture-wicking abilities High
Heat retention abilities Medium
Stretchability (give) Low
Prone to pilling/bubbling Low
Country where fabric was first produced United States
Biggest exporting/producing country today United States, Germany, United Kingdom, Japan, or China
Recommended washing temperatures Machine-wash cool or cold
Commonly used in Jackets, rain shells, gloves, shoes, backpacks, space suits, book protectors, medical implants

What is GORE-TEX fabric?

GORE-TEX is a patented type of waterproof fabric made with a variant of polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) known as expanded PTFE (ePTFE). As one of the first flexible waterproof fabrics invented, GORE-TEX remains a highly popular waterproofing material with few significant competitors.

GORE-TEX technical specifications

GORE-TEX consists of PTFE fabric that has been stretched during post-production. This fabric contains millions of tiny holes per inch, and each of these holes is far too small to admit even the smallest water droplet. Water vapor, however, consists of much smaller particles than liquid water, allowing vaporized sweat to pass through GORE-TEX, which results in impressive breathability.

To remain effective, GORE-TEX fabric must be treated regularly with durable water repellent (DWR), a toxic chemical spray that wears off over the course of a few years. While DWR is not necessary to keep GORE-TEX waterproof, this substance keeps water off the surface of GORE-TEX fabric, allowing breathability.

Without DWR treatment, GORE-TEX garments become much more prone to overheating. Also, since it is impossible to make seamless GORE-TEX apparel, the seams of garments that feature this fabric must be carefully taped to receive certification from the W.L. Gore corporation.

History of GORE-TEX

Wilbert L. Gore, the creator of GORE-TEX and the founder of W.L. Gore and Associates, began his career at the DuPont Corporation in the 1940s. Gore worked at DuPont during the company's most notable period of technological advancements, and he became especially enamored with PTFE, one of DuPont’s most intriguing plastics.

In 1958, Wilbert left his job at DuPont to further explore what he believed to be untapped potential in PTFE. With the help of his wife, Genevieve, and his son, Bob, Wilbert performed a wide variety of experiments on PTFE as he attempted to expose its hidden attributes.

Years of fruitless research left the Gore family frustrated, and finally, on one day in 1969, Bob Gore reached his limit. The Gores had recently been performing experiments involving stretching heated rods of PTFE, and in a fit of frustration, Bob yanked at a rod instead of slowly stretching it. Much to his surprise, the rod stretched over 1000%, and it resulted in a highly porous material that was more than 70% air.

Over the next decade or so, W.L. Gore and Associates applied for a variety of patents for their new material, which they named GORE-TEX. The last of these patents was approved in 1980, four years after the first GORE-TEX garments appeared on the market.

GORE-TEX fabric today

Despite a bitterly-fought court case that took place in the 1970s to establish the legal inventor of ePTFE, GORE-TEX rapidly rose to supremacy over the next few decades. In 1979, W.L. Gore and Associates introduced GORE-SEAM tape, which improved the waterproofing of GORE-TEX apparel. GORE-TEX was featured in the space suits worn by astronauts during the first Space Shuttle missions, and in 1982, the first GORE-TEX footwear booties were developed.

W.L. Gore started producing GORE-TEX gloves in 2003, and the GORE-TEX Pro line was introduced in 2006. The highly lightweight GORE-TEX SHAKEDRY line was launched in 2016, and in 2017, W.L. Gore developed GORE-TEX Invisible Fit, which is a direct competitor to other footwear waterproofing technologies that do not rely on booties.

W.L. Gore and Associates continues to produce new lines of products every year, and this brand does its best to stay competitive with the latest technologies. While GORE-TEX still offers impressive performance, it is no longer the only reliable apparel and footwear waterproofing technology on the market, incentivizing W.L. Gore to expand into other areas of the outdoor gear market.

How is GORE-TEX fabric made?

The GORE-TEX production process involves three main steps:

1. PTFE production

First, PTFE is produced in the form of rods, blocks, or other large, solid shapes. As the polymer form of tetrafluoroethylene (TFE), this process begins with forming TFE by combining fluorspar, hydrofluoric acid, and chloroform. Upon exposure to heat, these three substances combine, and the resulting TFE takes on a gas form at room temperature.

Stored as a liquid in cold, pressurized conditions, TFE is exposed to ammonium persulfate or another initiator substance and combined with water using suspension polymerization or dispersion. This process results in PTFE, which takes on either a powder or pellet form, which is then formed into a solid shape using heat.

2. Stretching

The resulting blocks of PTFE are then heated again and stretched rapidly to form a thin filament. In most cases, the resulting ePTFE is formed into large sheets that can then be cut into various shapes once cool.

3. Bonding with polyurethane

GORE-TEX features an ePTFE layer with a polyurethane (PU) layer underneath. These two materials are bonded together after PTFE is stretched into ePTFE.

4. Adding to garments and other items

In most cases, GORE-TEX is sewn underneath the uppermost layer of a garment. As a result, water can seep through the top layer, but it is stopped once it reaches GORE-TEX. In shoes and gloves, GORE-TEX is commonly added in the form of a bootie, but the W.L. Gore corporation’s recently developed GORE-TEX Invisible Fit melds directly with the outer layer of a shoe.

How is GORE-TEX fabric used?

GORE-TEX is primarily used in outdoor apparel and sportswear, but this fabric is also commonly used in accessories like gloves and shoes. Less commonly, GORE-TEX may even be used in industrial and medical applications.

Apparel

GORE-TEX is included in a wide variety of different types of outdoor apparel. Originally used exclusively in rain shells and winter jackets, this material is now commonly used in pants and lightweight cycling jackets as well.

Accessories

The first GORE-TEX booties were developed in 1982, and W.L. Gore introduced its first gloves in 2003. Since the 1980s, GORE-TEX shoes have improved significantly, and GORE-TEX is also used in backpacks, hats, and other outdoor accessories.

Industry

GORE-TEX was included in space suits throughout the 1980s, and this material is used in a wide variety of medical applications including sutures and vascular grafts. The porosity of GORE-TEX allows bodily tissues to grow through it, making this inert material ideal for cardiovascular implants. GORE-TEX is also used to seal batteries and preserve ancient documents.

Where is GORE-TEX fabric produced?

W.L. Gore and Associates operates manufacturing facilities in a variety of different countries. This corporation does not disclose which of these facilities produces the most GORE-TEX fabric. Examples of nations where W.L. Gore has established operations include the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, Japan, and China.

How much does GORE-TEX fabric cost?

GORE-TEX is one of the most expensive synthetic fabrics. It is only possible to source this textile from the W.L. Gore corporation, which charges relatively hefty prices. Once you have acquired GORE-TEX fabric, you must send your completed garments back to W.L. Gore for certification, which entails an additional fee. Many manufacturers believe, however, that the GORE-TEX logo is well worth the price.

What different types of GORE-TEX fabric are there?

There are quite a few different types of GORE-TEX fabric. This material also has a couple of competitors that are worth noting:

1. GORE-TEX

First developed in the 1960s, the original GORE-TEX fabric is still widely used in rain shells, jackets, and other applications. While this material is not as durable as other forms of GORE-TEX, it is highly versatile.

2. GORE-TEX Pro

GORE-TEX Pro is more durable than original GORE-TEX, and it is commonly used in heavy-duty outdoor applications such as rock climbing equipment. Due to its enhanced performance, GORE-TEX Pro is also popular in cold-weather garments.

3. GORE-TEX SHAKEDRY

As one of the newest forms of GORE-TEX, this type of waterproof material is more lightweight and breathable than original GORE-TEX or GORE-TEX Pro. As a result, it is ideal for intensive athletic applications like running and cycling.

4. GORE-TEX Invisible Fit

In direct response to other technologies that had solved the issues inherent to including waterproof booties in shoes, GORE-TEX developed Invisible Fit, which directly bonds to the outer surfaces of footwear to prevent water entry and subsequent waterlogging.

5. GORE-TEX Surround

This GORE-TEX footwear technology focuses more on breathability than waterproofing, but it still provides significant waterproofing benefits.

6. GORE-TEX Paclite

Developed in the late 1990s, GORE-TEX Paclite is lightweight and flexible, making it easy to include in jackets that pack into their pockets, which were trending at the time.

7. GORE-TEX Infinium

Recently, GORE-TEX launched its Infinium line, which consists of materials that provide benefits other than waterproofing. Materials in the Infinium line provide enhanced breathability, insulation, or other benefits that are useful in outdoor apparel.

8. Columbia OutDry

Columbia Sportswear’s competing OutDry fabric provides waterproofing without any seams, solving one of the most consistent issues with GORE-TEX fabric. OutDry also remains breathable without DWR coatings even if it is slightly less waterproof.

9. eVent

While similar to GORE-TEX, eVent does not feature a polyurethane layer, making this fabric more breathable than GORE-TEX. eVent also offers slightly better waterproofing than GORE-TEX.

How does GORE-TEX fabric impact the environment?

GORE-TEX fabric has a notably negative impact on the environment. Not only is the production of PTFE harmful to the environment and to textile workers, but it’s necessary to periodically spray GORE-TEX with DWR to keep it breathable. The safety of DWR has not been established, and this substance is a known environmental toxin.

The production of PTFE involves the emission of a variety of gases, and PTFE is often handled in powder form. When inhaled, both PTFE gases and powders can be significantly harmful to human lung and nervous system health and can result in a condition known as polymer fume fever.

PTFE production is highly wasteful, and unusable PTFE is usually placed in landfills. If this substance seeps into surrounding ecosystems, it degrades into trifluoroacetate (TFA), a substance that interferes with plant growth.

While PTFE is not biodegradable, it does break down into toxins that pollute the environment for decades. It is possible to recycle PTFE, but doing so often costs more than making new PTFE material.

GORE-TEX fabric certifications available

W.L. Gore and Associates provides certifications for garments that feature GORE-TEX fabric. This corporation sells GORE-TEX fabric to other companies, and the companies then send back examples of their finished products for certification in exchange for a fee.

The main criteria that W.L. Gore examines during the certification process is how effectively the manufacturer has applied GORE-SEAM tape. If this special tape is applied ineffectively, GORE-TEX products will admit water, harming the reputation of the GORE-TEX brand.

Once a product featuring GORE-TEX has been certified, the W.L. Gore corporation issues hang tags that the manufacturer can attach to the certified product, and they receive permission to advertise the product as featuring GORE-TEX. Items featuring GORE-TEX are not eligible for any independent or third-party certifications.

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About the author:

Boris Hodakel is the founder and CEO of Sewport - an online marketplace connecting brands and manufacturers, former founder of various clothing manufacturing services. He is passionate about e-commerce, marketing and production digitisation. Connect with Boris on LinkedIn.