How to Waterproof Cotton Fabric, Clothing, Gear and More

Video how to waterproof cotton jacket

Every outdoorsman knows that rain is a great way to put a damper on any trip.

Waterproofing your gear is an essential step to ensuring your trip goes smoothly.

Even if you’re not expecting rain, surprise storms and even morning dew can put a damper on your experience.

In severe cases, waterproof gear can even be the difference between life and death. If your clothes happen to get soaked and you don’t have a set of dry backups, hypothermia can quickly set in.

A Few Misconceptions About Waterproofing

Waterproofing isn’t necessarily as hard as it seems.

When you think of waterproofing, you may think of expensive chemicals, stiff clothes, and complicated techniques that may not be even genuinely waterproof your clothes.

This notion really couldn’t be further from the truth. I believe that everyone should waterproof their camping gear.

The techniques I list here really don’t take more than a few hours out of your weekend to apply.

They also won’t break the bank, meaning you can waterproof your clothing and gear for under $20 in most cases.

Why You Should Waterproof Cotton Fabric Clothing

Waterproofing cotton clothing is a great way to add an extra layer of protection for when you’re enjoying the outdoors.

All it would take is one surprise storm, and suddenly you could be soaked. Even if you’re wearing a rain jacket, your shirt might stay dry, but your pants and undergarments won’t be.

rain on forest tree

If you’re in a cold environment, this can quickly lead to a deadly situation. hypothermia can rapidly set in and put you in the state requiring immediate medical attention.

I always waterproof my camping clothes so that I’ll never be caught off-guard and have less to worry about. Even if I’m caught off guard with the surprise storm that comes out of nowhere, I have much less to worry about than the next guy.

How I Recommend You Waterproof Cotton Clothing

if you’re like most people, waterproofing your clothing seems like a big hassle.

When I first thought of waterproofing my clothing, I immediately thought of applying expensive chemicals to my clothes that would make them stiff, unbreathable, and smell like chemicals.

Granger’s Performance Products

Grangers’ products proved to be my favorite solution for waterproofing clothes.

The reason I chose Grangers’ is that I didn’t want something that uses harsh chemicals and left my clothes feeling stiff and stinky.

According to Grangers, their waterproofing products are different because they use a fluorocarbon-free environmentally friendly formula instead of wax or silicone to waterproof garments.

man wearing outdoor clothing in forest

If you’ve ever bought a piece of outdoor gear that was waterproof from the factory, the waterproof coating is probably similar to Grangers.

A Note About Flurocarbons

If you’re not familiar with waterproofing products, you may be wondering why fluorocarbon-free is a good thing.

Fluorocarbons are commonly used in fishing lines because of their high tensile strength and low weight. They also have water-repellent properties that make them a good waterproofing material.

Plus, being a really cheap method to waterproof things makes them very attractive to manufacturers.

The issue with fluorocarbons is the adverse health and environmental effects that come with them.

Fluorocarbons are dangerous because they’re known to be extremely persistent chemicals. In layman’s terms, they don’t break down naturally for a very, very long time.

Breaking down naturally in this case means both in the environment such as streams, soil, and plants as well in animals, including humans.

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Fluorocarbon has also been shown to cause damage to the immune systems of children, increase incidents of cancer in fluorocarbon polluted systems, compromised female fertility, birth defects in rats, and the list goes on.

Needless to say, I wholly support environmentally-friendly fluorocarbon-free products.

A Note About Silicone Sprays

Silicone sprays are another method that I see people recommend for waterproofing.

In most cases, I despise these silicone sprays. Grangers is the exception because they did theirs right, but I’ve found most others to be lacking in quality.

Not to call out any names, but most aerosol cans of silicone waterproofing spray I’ve used tended to go on very stiff and didn’t do the best job of waterproofing.

I’m not sure if it’s their formula or some compromise they need to make with the aerosol can, but every one I’ve tried turned out to be junk. They would work great for waterproofing cotton fabric on something like patio furniture, but they suck for waterproofing clothing.

Every canned spray I’ve tried was stiff and left my clothing hot and messy. All the breath-ability of the cotton fabric was sealed by the silicone spray. Instead of waterproofing my clothes, they made them hot, heavy and miserable to be in.

That’s my two-cents for you. I hope I can save you a lot of time trying out junk canned sprays so that you can instead get the real deal that Grangers formulated with their spray.

Waterproofing Cotton Fabric Clothing With Grangers

I found waterproofing with Granger’s to be much more comfortable than other waterproofing methods for clothing.

All you need is a bottle of their performance wash and a bottle of their clothing repel to waterproof your clothes.

Plus, Grangers makes it easy with instructional videos and written instructions on their website.

Starting With the Performance Wash

mika luoma 634293 unsplash How to Waterproof Cotton Fabric, Clothing, Gear and More

Granger’s performance wash is made to clean and prepare your clothes for waterproofing by removing the dirt and detergents within the fabric.

It’s essential to remove all the dirt and detergent residue from your clothes before waterproofing them.

If you don’t treat and clean your clothes with performance wash first, your waterproof coating will perform poorly and have a shorter lifespan.

Here’s a quick guide on how to prepare your cotton clothes with Granger’s wash in products.

  1. Hand-clean any caked-on mud dirt or Grime from the surface of your clothes.
    1. Ensure your washer’s detergent well is clean of any residue from previous washes.
    2. Close all the pockets on your clothes, including zip-up and velcro pockets.
  2. Pour two capfuls of Grangers performance wash into the detergent area of your washer. Add another capful of performance wash if you’re washing two garments.
    1. If washing more than three garments, split them into separate loads of no more than two garments per load.
  3. Set your washer to run around a 30-minute hot wash and rinse cycle.
    1. Be mindful of your garments washing instructions and adjust your washing cycle accordingly.
  4. Tumble dry on low heat if your garment allows, or air dry if required by your clothes’ drying instructions.

After you’ve gone through this first cycle of performance wash, your garment is now clean and ready to be waterproof with the clothing repel solution.

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Treating and Waterproofing With Clothing Repel

Using the clothing repel is similar to cleaning your clothes with the performance wash.

Here’s a quick guide on how to use Grangers clothing repel wash treatment:

  • Close all pockets on your garment, including velcro and zipper pockets.
  • Used two capfuls of clothing repel solution to waterproof one garment. If you need to waterproof two garments, use three capfuls of clothing repel solution.
  • If you need to waterproof two or more garments, split them into separate loads of no more than two garments each.
  • Wash your clothes on either a medium heat or cold wash cycle.
    1. Unlike Grangers’ performance wash, the clothing repel doesn’t need heat to activate. Both medium heat and cold water wash cycles will do fine.
  • After washing, you can tumble dry if your garments allow, or air dry your garments if necessary.

Once you’ve dried your clothes, they’re now waterproof. Water should now bead up and roll right off your clothes. If you’re wondering how long the waterproof coating will last, Grangers waterproofing can usually last through a whole season.

Waterproofing Cotton Fabric Gear

If your gear is something that is machine washable like a backpack or blanket, I’d recommend you follow the instructions above for clothing.

But if you want to waterproof gear that isn’t machine washable, I’ve got a different solution for you.

I’m a big fan of Grangers’ products, so it should be no surprise that I’m going to recommend you use them for your gear too.

When they offer factory-grade, environmentally friendly, and budget-friendly waterproofing that beats everything else, it’s not hard to see why I give them a glowing recommendation.

Preparing Your Gear for Waterproofing

Similar to waterproofing clothing, you’ll need to wash your gear beforehand. If you can’t wash your gear in the washing machine, then you’ll want to handwash your gear.

I know, it seems like a lot of effort, but it’s well worth it. You’ll appreciate the extra effort when water flawlessly beads up and rolls off your gear.

Here’s what you’ll need to handwash your gear:

  • Soap bucket (clean with no soap residue)
  • Grangers performance wash
  • Your clean sponge/brush of choice
  • Spray bottle with fresh water

Once you have all the necessities prepared, it’s time to get to work handwashing your gear. If you’re washing equipment with any moisture sensitive pieces, be sure to either remove them or be extra careful around those pieces.

Here’s how you should hand wash your gear with the performance wash.

  1. Fill up your soap bucket with water and pour one to two capfuls of performance wash in the bucket.
  2. Dunk your sponge/brush in the bucket and begin gently washing your gear with small circles.
  3. Continue washing your gear until you have washed and agitated the entire piece of gear, paying extra attention to clean the seams.
  4. Once you’re done washing your gear with performance wash, use your spray bottle of clean water to clean away any leftover performance wash.
  5. Leave your piece of gear to air dry overnight.

Now that we’ve put in the extra effort hand washing our gear, it’s clean and ready to receive a waterproof coating.

Waterproofing Your Gear

The next step to waterproofing our gear is to spray on a complete coat of Grangers’ performance repel formula.

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Similar to the clothing repel, this formula doesn’t need heat activation and contains no fluorocarbons, making it environmentally friendly and safe to use on all fabrics. Plus, it keeps the fabric breathable, lightweight and flexible.

We’ve done all the hard work beforehand when we hand-cleaned our gear, so now comes the easy part.

Here’s how to waterproof your gear with the performance repel.

  1. Hold your piece of gear up so that it hangs downwards. Use a coat hanger or clothesline if necessary.
  2. Spray Grangers’ performance wash all over the exterior of your piece of gear until the entire exterior is wet with the spray. Pay particular attention to spray every seam for a complete seal.
  3. Wipe away any large droplets of the performance repel spray with a clean cloth.
  4. Air dry your gear for 24 hours to complete the waterproofing.

After you’ve air dried your gear, you should be ready to face the rain. Water should now bead up and slide right off your piece of gear without a hitch.

The coating will typically last quite a while, but if you notice the performance of the waterproof layer starting to decline, you may need to clean the area where the coating is lacking and re-apply the performance repel.

Waterproofing Heavy Cotton Fabrics/Canvas

When it comes to waterproofing heavy duty cotton fabrics like canvas, I like to take a different approach.

If you prefer to use Grangers’ products as I recommended above, then feel free. They’ll serve you well, although you may find yourself applying them more often to items like canvas tarps that see constant use and abuse.

For these heavy-duty pieces of gear, I prefer to use a product called Canvak to waterproof my gear.

Canvak is slightly different than Grangers’ products. Canvak is for more industrial uses like awnings, boat tarps, and heavy canvas fabrics.

But for items like heavy canvas tarps, it’s perfect for creating a lifelong waterproof seal that also protects the fabric from the elements such as UV damage.

Applying Canvak is a lot more straightforward than applying Grangers. Here’s what you’ll want to apply Canvak to your heavy-duty pieces of gear:

  • Canvak
  • Paintbrush (if you’re not using a sprayer)
  • Garden sprayer (if you’re not using a paintbrush)

If you’ve got a lot of gear to coat, you might want to go with a garden sprayer. Otherwise, a paintbrush will do just fine.

It’s not too hard to apply Canvak, and you can typically do it with just two hours taken out of your weekend. Here’s how you should apply Canvak to your canvas gear:

  1. Spray off your piece of gear with a hose to clean off any grime and dirt.
  2. Allow your piece of clean gear to dry overnight
  3. Once dry, paint/spray on a layer of Canvak that completes wets the piece of gear without any drippings. If the gear begins to drip, you’ve applied enough Canvak.
  4. Allow the Canvak to dry for 24 hours in a well-ventilated area.

Once you’ve allowed the gear to dry for 24 hours, you’re all set!

The Canvak layer should last all season long, and well into the next one too.

For optimal waterproofing and UV protection, I’d recommend you apply a new coat once every season or once a year from whenever you apply your first coat.

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Ethan Smith is a seasoned marine veteran, professional blogger, witty and edgy writer, and an avid hunter. He spent a great deal of his childhood years around the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest in Arizona. Watching active hunters practise their craft initiated him into the world of hunting and rubrics of outdoor life. He also honed his writing skills by sharing his outdoor experiences with fellow schoolmates through their high school’s magazine. Further along the way, the US Marine Corps got wind of his excellent combination of skills and sought to put them into good use by employing him as a combat correspondent. He now shares his income from this prestigious job with his wife and one kid. Read more >>