If you want to buy a raincoat or umbrella, you will need to select a fabric that does not let the rain soak through! You can find waterproof and water-resistant fabrics in bedsheets, tents, or jackets. So, what are the best waterproof and water-resistant fabrics?
Waterproof fabric is impervious to moisture and water-resistant fabric can repel some moisture. Both types of material have popular uses, including diaper linings, raincoats, and umbrellas. Popular types of these fabrics include polyester, nylon, oilcloth, wool, and GORE-TEX.
In this article, you will learn the difference between waterproof and water-resistant fabrics. You will discover the top 11 of these materials and their best uses. Finally, you will find tips for selecting the best material for coats, bags, and more!
- What is Waterproof Fabric?
- What is Water Resistant Fabric?
- 11 Best Waterproof and Water Resistant Fabrics
- What Material is Waterproof and Breathable?
- What is a Natural Water-Resistant Fabric?
- Is Nylon Water Resistant?
- Is Fleece Waterproof?
- What is the Most Durable Waterproof Fabric?
- Best Fabric to Wear in Rain
- Best Waterproof Fabric for Outdoor Furniture
- Waterproof Fabric by the Yard
- Can You Waterproof Fabric?
What is Waterproof Fabric?
Waterproof fabric is treated with a sealant or coating that prevents moisture from soaking through its surface. One of the most common coatings used today is called PVC, or polyvinyl chloride. Plastisol, polyurethane, and silicone also make useful waterproofing sprays and coatings.
In the past, wax and rubber saw a lot of use as waterproofing treatments. But these natural coatings can crack and decay more quickly than modern coatings.
In most cases, authentic waterproof fabric has to undergo industry-standard testing to prove how well it can repel water. Most of these tests take place in a rain room. The rain room can simulate intense floods of moisture landing on the fabric’s surface.
If the moisture beads on the surface of the material but does not soak through, it attains a certain level of waterproof status.
How do manufacturers measure this ability to repel water? They use a test that determines how many millimeters of rain the surface of the fabric can hold in 24 hours before some of the liquid seeps through.
Everyday raincoats and umbrellas typically have a rating of around 5k or 10k. More serious waterproof materials such as the fabric used to make wetsuits or inflatables may reach a rating as high as 20k.
The other key metric used on waterproof fabric is how well it allows water vapor. Not every waterproof fabric has this ability. But in most cases, a wearable fabric has to allow some moisture through so that your sweat can escape into the air.
Manufacturers grade the breathability of waterproof fabric with a test. This test measures how many grams of water vapor per square meter of fabric can get through in 24 hours.
The bottom line with waterproof fabric is that it forms a protective barrier that does not allow moisture through. This kind of fabric comes in handy for everything from inflatable boats to everyday rainjackets.
Keep in mind, though, that a waterproof fabric does not make a garment impervious to moisture. You can use a waterproof fabric to sew a raincoat. But zippers, buttons, and seams will weaken the water-resistance of the finished garment.
For this reason, you want to look into the waterproof rating of the garment or item as a whole. This will help you make informed buying decisions!
What is Water Resistant Fabric?
Water-resistant fabric contains fibers that resist moisture but will absorb water over time. This category came into existence with the creation of synthetic materials like polyester and nylon.
The basic concept of water-resistant fabric is that its microscopic fibers offer good water resistance. But the fabric itself contains pores and tiny holes between threads. The gaps between threads in the weave mean that the material will allow some water.
Often, this kind of material is measured by the denier. This describes the density and thickness of the threads used in the weave.
Fabric with a higher denier will have better water resistance. It will have a more closely packed weave with smaller air gaps to let moisture through!
Water-resistant fabrics often receive chemical treatment to make them more impervious to moisture. But this treatment does wear out over time.
Despite that, you are more likely to find water-resistant materials used in everyday equipment like jackets, sports coats, and luggage. This is because water-resistant material naturally offers more breathability.
A fully waterproof material like vinyl does not score well on breathability tests. If you want to wear a garment made out of it, you would need some kind of air vents sewn into it to keep you from getting too hot and sweaty.
Water-resistant fabrics can hold off a lot of moisture before any seeps through. But you would not use this material to make an inflatable boat! But a raincoat made out of water-resistant nylon will keep you dry just fine, even in an intense rainstorm.
11 Best Waterproof and Water Resistant Fabrics
The best waterproof and water-resistant fabrics include materials like polyester, nylon, and vinyl. Popular brand-name materials like Gore-tex and Naugahyde also offer great moisture repelling abilities. A few natural fabrics like ELS and wool can provide limited water resistance as well.
The durability, breathability, and water-repelling ability of the fabric can all play a role in helping you choose the best fabric for the job.
1. Extra-Long Staple CottonELS, or extra-long-staple cotton, has very long fibers that twist together into a dense form of cotton fabric. This type of cotton grows mainly in Southern California and more tropical locations. It remains somewhat rare today.
ELS cotton has several popular uses, including waterproof bedding. When used for sheets, this water-resistant material usually receives an extra chemical treatment. It retains the softness and breathability of cotton and becomes impervious to moisture.
You can also find laminated cotton or waxed cotton or canvas for sale. These kinds of materials show up in various water-resistant categories like canopies or even bibs for babies!
Laminated cotton has a sealant layer on one side, making it fairly impervious to moisture. Waxed cotton is usually some type of canvas made from densely woven cotton threads.
2. GORE-TEXGore-tex is one of the biggest name brands in the field of waterproof fabric. This type of material contains stretched Teflon in a special laminate layer. It is famously durable and rugged that the United States Marines use it!
This remarkable material receives high marks for durability, breathability, and comfort. It has a lightweight weave and a flexible feel.
GORE-TEX is a trademark belonging to W.L. Gore & Associates, and remains one of the most popular weather-resistant materials on the market today.
It also holds the honor of being one of the earliest waterproof fabrics invented. The company first sold this fabric way back in 1969!
This kind of material uses the basic concept of densely weaving together threads made out of waterproof fibers. It also has three layers, including a waterproof laminate. Most brand-name waterproof fabric uses this general structure.
3. MicrofiberPolyester microfiber contains extremely fine polyester threads and has a close weave. Microfiber of any kind has to use fibers smaller than 10 micrometers in diameter. This makes a very light and fine material.
When used for waterproof fabric, this material receives a DWR, or durable water-resistant, finish. This gives it a waterproof shell layer on its surface.
Because of its close weave, it feels very silky to the touch and sees a lot of use in items like ski coats and rain jackets.
Naugahyde is a trademarked type of fabric that looks like leather on one side and has a softer jersey knit backing on the other side. The leather-like side features a coating of polyvinyl chloride or PVC. The vinyl coating provides excellent waterproofing abilities.
Because of that, Naugahyde makes popular outdoor furniture upholstery, among other things! It has a lot of advantages over actual leather. It comes in large rolls, so manufacturers do not have to piece together animal hides to make a cushion cover. It also allows easy cleaning and repels moisture.
5. NeopreneNeoprene is a rubbery kind of synthetic material used to make wetsuits. It is completely waterproof, as you might imagine! This material contains a synthetic rubber-replacement substance called polychloroprene.
As a fun fact, the famous DuPont company that also invented polyester made the first Neoprene as part of the war effort during World War II. The military used Neoprene in vehicle tires and tactical gear when a critical rubber shortage occurred.
Neoprene offers a lot of flexibility and elasticity but does not have any breathability. Its main strength lies in its total ability to repel water.
6. NylonNylon is a synthetic material made from petrochemicals, first made popular as a silk replacement in hosiery during the world wars. Nylon fibers on their own do have hydrophobic properties, meaning that they do not easily absorb water. But in most cases, nylon material receives extra treatments to make it more waterproof.
Almost all umbrellas use nylon fabric with an interior polyurethane coating, for example!
The more recent invention of ripstop nylon created a much more waterproof and durable fabric. Parachutes, tents, and hiking backpacks often feature this fabric. The term “ripstop” means a special form of weaving reinforced squares of threads into the fabric, making it much more durable.
7. OilclothOilcloth is one of the more confusing terms used in waterproof fabric. Back in the day, “oilcloth” meant a type of fabric treated with boiled linseed oil. This natural version of waterproofing had limited success but was better than nothing!
Today, in a very confusing turn of events, “oilcloth” is often used to mean a type of laminated cotton. It features a thin layer of PVC coating on its surface in a shiny or matte plasticky layer.
This kind of fabric makes those thick, plasticky tablecloths with one shiny side and one fleecy side that you probably use for your picnic table. You also see this material used for lunchboxes, baby bibs, and luggage.
8. PolyesterPolyester is a synthetic fabric made out of byproducts from petroleum. Basically, it is a kind of plastic! Because polyester costs very little to manufacture, a huge part of the ready-wear fashion industry uses this fabric. From the mid-1900s to today, polyester has taken over more than half of all the clothing made in the world!
Any kind of polyester fabric has some water resistance. Polyester fibers have great hydrophobic properties and do not absorb water.
That said, your average polyester bed sheets do not offer waterproofing abilities. This happens because of all the tiny holes between the threads in the weave.
Good water-resistant polyester fabrics use a special, dense weave to remove a lot of these air gaps. But most of these fabrics will also use a DWR to provide real waterproofing.
9. PULOne of the most commonly used water-resistant fabrics in the world features a polyester fabric with a plastic backing. The backing contains polyurethane laminate. This kind of fabric is commonly just called “PUL.”
You can buy PUL made with lots of variations. It comes with either a knitted or woven polyester side. You can also get the plastic, laminated side in varying thicknesses of either one or two millimeters.
The big advantages of PUL are that it remains soft and flexible even though it also has this effective sealant on one side. It is usually washable and breathable, besides offering great waterproofing abilities.
Cloth diapers, raincoats, hospital bedding, upholstery, and many kinds of bags use PUL fabric. The next time you go out to eat, check out the fabric covering the restaurant booth–chances are, it is made out of PUL!
10. VinylVinyl fabric is a kind of plastic made out of ethylene and chlorine.
All vinyl fabric offers a certain level of waterproofing. But only marine vinyl is durable for things like parts on boats or upholstery on a boat.
Vinyl fabric has many uses in outdoor upholstery but would not make comfortable clothing.
It does not provide good breathability and would feel hot and plasticky against your skin.
11. WoolWool is a rare all-natural fabric with protein-based fibers that resist moisture. Wool gets most of its water resistance from something called lanolin. Lanolin is a waxy coating that sheep make naturally. The lanolin soaks into every wool fiber and protects it from the elements.
So if you go hiking wearing wool socks or a wool sweater, you will have some protection from the damp!
You can also treat wool garments with lanolin to make them more water-resistant. Or you can buy boiled wool products. Boiled wool gets a dense, felted texture that becomes almost impenetrable to moisture.
What Material is Waterproof and Breathable?
Fabrics that provide both waterproofing and breathability include brand names like Gore-tex. This type of material will contain three layers within its construction.
The face of the fabric forms the top layer. For most apparel, this layer will contain either polyester or nylon.
The face fabric typically gets a thin, invisible sealing of a DWR (durable water repellent). This causes water to roll off it instead of soaking through.
But the DWR is not what makes this fabric waterproof. That job falls to the middle layer of the fabric, called the laminated membrane. This membrane usually contains a type of stretched Teflon or some form of Polytetrafloruethelyne.
This membrane contains invisible pinprick holes too small to allow water to soak through but big enough to allow water vapor out. This feature gives the fabric breathability.
The inside of the fabric holds one more layer that looks like a soft, fine mesh. The mesh makes the fabric feel more comfortable against your skin and protects the somewhat fragile laminate layer.
What is a Natural Water-Resistant Fabric?
Wool is one of the rare, all-natural fabrics that has a high level of water resistance, but most natural fabrics do not repel water. All-natural fabrics tend to have high absorbency rates and soak up water instead.
Even treated wool would not make a good outdoor canopy or tent! It can certainly keep you warm and dry when used in apparel, but it does not achieve full waterproof status.
Today, almost all waterproof fabric uses some kind of plastic, at least in its sealant or coating. If you want to go all-natural, you can try using a layer of beeswax or lanolin in place of this plastic. Sealing waxes can make a great protective cover on leather boots.
Is Nylon Water Resistant?
Nylon is water-resistant, though less so than polyester. But nylon has a lot of tensile strength, which makes it ideal for lightweight but tough umbrella fabric. It almost always uses a DWR to make it more impenetrable than water.
On its own, nylon will absorb a small amount of water. Unique weaving patterns can create extra-dense nylon.
Types of nylon such as ballistic nylon or ripstop nylon have much greater water resistance. But even these kinds of nylon typically have a coating on the surface to provide true waterproofing.
Is Fleece Waterproof?
Some types of fleece offer great water resistance, but fleece usually does not offer true waterproofing. Polyester fleece made from densely woven polyester fibers can have great water resistance. In most cases, manufacturers will add a chemical spray to the fleece to make it more water-resistant.
Polyester fleece gets used in diapers as a protective layer to prevent anything gross from soaking out. Of course, you also find polyester fleece used for insulating items. Sweatshirts, mittens, and blankets all use fleece because it retains heat so well.
What is the Most Durable Waterproof Fabric?
The most durable waterproof fabric for clothing is Gore-Tex or a generic version of that fabric. This kind of waterproof material contains layers to provide durability, waterproofing, and breathability. You see this material used in lots of outdoor gear and apparel.
Ripstop nylon has a lot of tensile strength and durability. In most cases, it falls into the water-resistant category and does not offer 100% waterproofing. When treated with proper coatings, it can work great for tough outdoor rain gear, though!
Neoprene and latex offer excellent waterproofing and durability but lack breathability. This means they do not make very comfortable clothing. You see these materials used in wetsuits or water-tight parts on boats.
Best Fabric to Wear in Rain
The best fabrics to wear in the rain include wool, polyester, and nylon. For outdoor sports gear, brand names like Gore-Tex will offer super-durable rain gear.
Check out these tips to find the best rainy day fabric!
For a Raincoat
You can find excellent raincoats made of many materials, including polyester microfiber, treated nylon, and Gore-Tex. But you need to consider more than just the fabric composition when you buy a raincoat.
Of course, first and most importantly, you should read the fine print to see what waterproof rating the fabric gets. You may also find info on the DWR coating that could tell you more about the rain-repelling abilities of the fabric.
Ideally, try to find information about the breathability of the fabric. You don’t want to feel as if you are sweltering inside plastic sheeting every time you wear your coat!
Next, you also want to check if the coat has sealed seams. Good raincoats will cover up all those tiny needle holes with waterproof tape.
Finally, does the coat have a hood? If you do not have a peaked hood, the rain will get down the collar of the coat during a serious storm. You might not want hat hair, but on a really rainy day, you will want a coat with a hood!
For a Jacket
Most waterproof jackets use coated nylon, polyester, or multi-layered fabric containing a waterproof laminate.
If you do a lot of hiking or camping, you will need a tough, durable, waterproof sportswear jacket. You can also find jackets designed specifically for running. These garments focus on breathability and feature lightweight materials.
Jackets with a waterproof coating on the material’s surface do not last as long. But if you only go hiking occasionally, you may not want to shell out for a Gore-Tex or REI waterproof jacket with a laminate membrane inside the fabric.
You should look for features like storm flaps and hem and cuff drawstrings. A chin guard and peaked hood will also help keep you dry if you want to get serious about water protection while outdoors.
You can find bags and luggage made out of all kinds of different waterproof fabrics. Some of the most popular include oilcloth, Naugahyde, ripstop nylon, and any kind of vinyl or sealed polyester.
The best type of fabric for your bag will depend primarily on what you need the bag for. A lunch box, for example, needs a waterproof inner lining. A laminate cotton/oilcloth could work well here, as could most types of PUL. But a laptop bag should have sealed seams and waterproof fabric to protect your technology as you walk around town!
Most luggage does not feature fully waterproof fabric, but it should provide some level of water resistance. If you get luggage made out of any kind of woven fabric, it will usually list a plastic or chemical coating on its surface in the product description.
For Outdoor Use
The best waterproof fabric for outdoor use includes treated Duck canvas and marine vinyl. Ripstop nylon and coated polyester also make great outdoor waterproof fabric.
Popular brands selling these fabrics include Ambersonne, Outertex, Henga Kite, and Plastex, among many others!
These types of tough outdoor fabric get used for awnings, outdoor umbrellas, and sometimes for outdoor upholstery.
Best Waterproof Fabric for Outdoor Furniture
The most popular waterproof fabric for outdoor furniture includes polyester materials like polypropylene and PUL. Other popular materials include vinyl or marine vinyl for boat upholstery and various types of treated canvas. For a faux-leather look, Naugahyde offers highly water-resistant upholstery as well.
Besides a good water-resistance rating, you also want to know if your new upholstery will resist fading. A lot of outdoor upholstery receives UV resistance treatments for this reason.
Generally speaking, fully synthetic upholstery materials will hold up to rain and sun for much longer than natural fabric.
Waterproof Fabric by the Yard
You can buy waterproof fabric by the yard from some sewing stores such as Joann Fabric in limited quantity. But for the broadest range of options, you will want to check out an online sewing store such as Fabric.com.
If you do decide to look for waterproof fabric in a brick and mortar store, you will probably find these materials sold by the yard either in sportswear fabrics or in upholstery materials. If you search an online fabric store, you can simply plug in a term like “waterproof” and you will get many results!
Can you sew waterproof fabric? Yes, but this does depend on the type of fabric and the kind of sewing machine you own. Your average sewing machine can sew a raincoat but may not have the strength to stitch through outdoor upholstery material.
Here are a few tips for sewing waterproof clothing:
- Use UV-protected thread in your sewing machine.
- Sew enclosed seams like French seams or flat-felled seams unless you plan to use waterproof tape to seal in every seam.
- Use clips or pattern weights during the process inside of poking holes in the fabric with sewing pins.
- Do not use an iron on this fabric! You could damage the protective coating on the surface of the fabric or even melt or scorch some types of synthetic material.
Can You Waterproof Fabric?
You can waterproof fabric for a while using treatments like commercial sprays and oils such as linseed or soybean. Coating fabric with turpentine or beeswax or even applying a layer of iron-on vinyl can also waterproof the material for a while.
In most cases, though, these treatments will not last forever. What they can do is prolong the life of a water-resistant fabric item. For example, suppose you bought a tent and it did great in the rain for the first two years. But now it seems a little less secure.
You can clean the tent fabric and then apply an appropriate spray coating to make it water-resistant for a couple more years!
You can also use wax or some oils to treat leather boots and jackets, protecting the leather from staining in bad weather.
The jury is out on the effectiveness of most DIY waterproofing treatments, though. They often provide a good temporary fix but will not hold up in the long term the way manufactured waterproof fabric will.
Waterproof fabric does not allow water to penetrate its surface. Water-resistant fabric can repel water but may absorb some moisture. Both types of material can make excellent rain gear, outdoor furniture, and umbrellas.
Popular types of waterproof and water-resistant fabric include polyester, nylon, laminated cotton, microfiber, fleece, and vinyl. Brand-name products like Gore-Tex and Naugahyde remain very popular for outdoor wear and upholstery.
Have you ever tried to sew with waterproof fabric? What kind did you use, and how did it turn out? Leave a comment below to let us know!