I’m a skeptic by nature and have always questioned authority, standard operating procedures, gut feel, the status quo, and institutional knowledge. In work and at play, I often put these truths to the test by doing experiments or establishing quantifiable metrics that invariably show that long-held beliefs are grossly incorrect.
Does DEET Melt Synthetics?
I’d always heard that DEET dissolves breathable fabrics, such as Gore-Tex, and that you should keep the two from coming into contact with one other. I’ve never had this problem outdoors when I’ve used DEET, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to test whether it is true or a myth in a more controlled setting on a pair of breathable rain pants.
One winter, I managed to shred a pair of Mountain Hardware Cohesion Pants, slashing dozens of rips in the legs with sharp front points, while learning to use crampons. Mountain Hardware Cohesion Pants are made with Conduit DT, a proprietary Gore-Tex knockoff that has three layers: an outer shell layer made from Epic nylon, a middle breathable layer made from Conduit DT, and an inner Epic stretch liner. I tried to extend the life of these pants with duct tape (see above), but finally donated their remains to science.
I applied three squirts of Ben’s 100% DEET and Ben’s 30% DEET to the Epic nylon fabric on the outside of the Cohesion pants. After 3 days, the 100% DEET solution (right in photo) was still quite wet, while the 30% DEET Solution (left in photo) had mostly dried. There was little evidence of any external damage to the pants leg.
Turning the pant leg inside out however, showed another result entirely. The 30% DEET solution had soaked through the outer shell layer and melted the middle Conduit DT layer and the inner liner. However, the damage was highly localized. [Does the photo below remind you of the Andromeda Strain?]
The damage under the 100% DEET application was much more significant, and large patches of the Conduit DT layer and the inner liner were melted away. As it turns out, this process is ongoing and the fabric continues to dissolve, unabated.
Mitigating DEET Clothing Damage
The evidence is quite clear and shows that DEET does dissolve breathable laminates. However, the strength of the DEET solution that the laminate comes in contact with is a determining factor in the amount of damage that will occur. Hikers who are concerned about the impact of DEET to clothing made using breathable laminates are advised to flush the point of contact with water to minimize potential damage.
Picaridin Instead of DEET
I originally conducted this experiment in 2009. Since then (two years ago) I switch to Sawyer Picaridin Insect Repellent instead of DEET, primarily because it doesn’t melt plastic, fog plastic lenses, or destroy any of the outdoor gear I own. The stuff works great. I’ll never go back to using DEET.
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