I recently made some cotton cushions for my patio furniture. The only thing is, I have to keep bringing them indoors in case it rains. It would be nice if I could leave them outside all the time. Is there a way I can do that? How can I make the fabric waterproof?
To make fabric waterproof, treat it with a substance that resists water. Several commercial options are available, including Scotchgard, Thompson’s Water Seal for Fabric, and Nikwax TX Direct. Natural products are also available. Beeswax, linseed oil, and iron-on vinyl effectively repels water.
In this article, I’ll show you how to waterproof fabric at home. Using these quick and simple tips, you can protect your outdoor fabrics from water damage.
- Why Do You Need Waterproof Fabric?
- Can You Waterproof Any Fabric?
- How to Make Fabric Waterproof
- Are DIY Fabric Waterproof Methods Permanent?
- Can You Waterproof a Non-Waterproof Jacket?
- What Fabric Items Can You Waterproof?
- Can You Buy Waterproof Fabric for Clothing?
Why Do You Need Waterproof Fabric?
Waterproof fabric enables us to spend more time outdoors. Even when the weather is less than idyllic. None of us like getting wet. Squelching about in soggy clothes can be unpleasant. So can sitting on saturated outdoor cushions.
It’s a sad part of most summers. The weather’s great until you want to sit outside in the sun. Then you see the storm clouds rolling over and the heavens open, dropping buckets of cold rain all over you and your patio.
Although the sun soon returns, the cushions on your chairs are soaked through, making them unusable until they dry. The rain certainly has the power to ruin a lazy sunny afternoon.
As more and more of us are using our patios as outside living areas, particularly in the summer months, it’s nice to be able to leave furniture, cushions, and even gazebos outside. Without worrying about them getting wet. Or having to wait days to be able to use them again.
Using waterproof fabric for outdoor cushions and covers means the rain just runs straight off. The items dry in no time, keeping them usable even after a full day’s rain.
Not only that, but waterproof garments can keep you active whatever the weather. A coat made from waterproof fabric allows you to enjoy your day at a national park or hike through a forest without getting too wet.
Another benefit is waterproofing helps protect the fabric from stains and spillages. Any kind of liquid will simply roll off the waterproof coating, leaving your outdoor clothes, covers, and cushions looking clean, fresh, and as good as new for longer.
Can You Waterproof Any Fabric?
Yes, you can waterproof any fabric. However, you have to be careful about what product you use on the material. Some textiles can react badly to chemicals, while others don’t fare well if treated with a water-based method. It’s a good idea to identify the fabric and the fiber content before waterproofing the material.
You want to make sure your fabric will benefit from being waterproof before you start. Think about what the fabric’s role is. Is it covering your chairs or made up into your favorite denim shirt? Not all items need to be waterproofed. With some, particularly when it comes to garments, you’re better off getting soaked through.
There are some very good reasons why you should leave some clothing non-waterproof. The first is down to comfort. Adding any waterproofing treatment to your garment will alter how the material behaves.
It’s inevitable that the coating you apply, whether it be as a spray or wax, will create an impenetrable moisture barrier. Therein lies the downside of waterproofing fabric.
That barrier will stop the travel of water through the fabric in both directions. Although you will stay dry in a downpour, the moisture-wicking properties of your cool cotton shirt will disappear. Resulting in trapped perspiration close to your skin, making you feel hot and sweaty.
Think twice before waterproofing your silk blouse too!. Silk is a light, flowy fabric known for its drape and summer-cool chic. A waterproof product on silk can make the material feel stiff. Worse, it can lose its shine. Waterproof products can dull and darken fabric colors. As silk is known for its luster, this could be a disaster for your blouse.
Then there is the annoying reality that waterproofing fabric can be a bit hit and miss. Whatever remedy you use on a non-waterproof fabric isn’t going to last long. Nor is the level of waterproof ability guaranteed. You might find you’ve irreversibly changed the appearance of your garment and yet the waterproof capacity is little more than shower resistant at best.
While all fabrics can be waterproofed, not all of them should be. Stick to materials used in home décor like linen and upholstery weight cotton. Textiles like cotton canvas are ideal for waterproofing as they are durable, hardwearing, and don’t need to be too flexible.
For garments, you only really need waterproof jackets, coats, hats, and shoes. Steer clear of shirts, dresses, pants, or anything that needs to allow for free movement.
How to Make Fabric Waterproof
Most of the time, fabrics designed for outdoor use are already waterproof. Your patio furniture, for instance, might already be covered in a waterproof fabric like olefin. But how about your cushions? If they are homemade, the chances are they won’t be weather resistant. Which can be a problem if you want to use them outside.
This section will show you how to make your non-waterproof cushions and covers into water repellant accessories for your home. You can also use the following remedies on garments designed for outerwear, such as coats, hats, and shoes.
You will need to do some fabric preparation for all these methods. It’s incredibly important to make sure the fabric you want to treat is clean and dry before treatment.
Any dirt or grime will hinder the waterproof coverage by causing bumps or gaps in the coating. Water gets everywhere and the slightest gap will let it seep through.
Next, work in a well-ventilated area. Or better still, go outside to waterproof your items. Choose a dry, non-windy day, so your preferred solution doesn’t get blown all over you. It’s advisable to wear protective gear just in case. For sprays, in particular, goggles, gloves, and a facemask are highly recommended.
Now that the safety information has been covered, let’s look at the DIY methods you can use to make your fabric waterproof. Read through the step-by-step guides to find the best one for you and your situation.
1. Alum PowderAlum powder can be found at your local grocery store. It’s used in baking and for pickling. Basically, it’s a food additive. You can also find it sold as a rock for deodorant use. Or even as an antiseptic to soothe irritated skin, especially after shaving.
The name alum is a derivative of aluminum, and there are a couple of alum powders available. Including soda alum and ammonium alum. But the one we’re interested in for waterproofing fabric is the one used for pickling. It’s known as potassium alum or potash alum.
You will need:
- Alum powder
- Hot water
- Laundry tongs
- Rubber gloves
- Your usual laundry detergent
- 2 large buckets or containers
- A dry sunny day
- Clothes pegs
- A friend
Fill one of your large buckets with hot water. There needs to be enough water to completely cover all the fabric. Add laundry detergent and give it a swirl with your laundry tongs. Again, the amount of detergent you need will depend on the size of your fabric. As a rule of thumb, you’re looking at about 1 pound of detergent for every 2 gallons of water.
Put your fabric in a mix of hot water and detergent. Push it down into the bucket or container with your laundry tongs. Don’t use your hands as the water needs to be very hot. Keep pushing the fabric down if trapped air makes sections poke through the water’s surface. Leave the fabric to soak until it is completely wet through.
Wearing your rubber gloves, take the saturated fabric out of the detergent water. This is the stage where you might need help from a friend. You want to open the fabric out until it is a flat sheet. With you at one end and your friend at the other, pull the fabric until you can hold it flat between you.
Then hang it from a clothesline using pegs at regular intervals to hold it on the clothesline. Don’t let the fabric fold, crease, or double up. For this step to work, the fabric must dry as a sheet, with both sides being exposed to the air. Leave to hang outside until the material is totally dry.
Fill your second container with 2 gallons of hot water. Then add 1/2 pound of the alum powder. Stir well until the alum is dissolved. Using your rubber gloves, push the fabric into the alum and water mix. Push it down until all the fabric is underneath the water’s surface.
Leave the fabric to soak for a minimum of 2 hours. Keep checking on the material throughout the timespan so you can eliminate any air bubbles as they form. All of the fabric must stay underwater throughout this step.
With help from your friend, unravel the fabric once more. Stretch it out between you until all creases and folds have been removed. You need it to be a completely flat sheet. Hang it on the clothesline to expose both sides to the sun and air. Don’t let any of the fabric touch any other part of itself. Once the material has dried, it’s ready to use as a waterproof fabric.
2. BeeswaxBeeswax is possibly one of the oldest methods for waterproofing fabric. It has been used as a natural remedy for repelling water from clothes for generations.
However, this method can be a little dicey. It involves using hot wax, which can be dangerous for children and pets. Keep both well out of the way if you choose to use this option.
Better suited for smaller waterproofing projects, this option uses more than one type of wax. It can be time-consuming and expensive to do. As with all these methods, make sure your material is clean and dry before starting.
You will need:
- Paraffin or candle wax
- 1-inch paintbrush
- Metal bowl
- Metal spoon
- Rubber gloves
Heat some water in the saucepan and put your metal bowl over the top. This is known as a double-boiler and is the same process that chefs use to melt chocolate for drizzling on cakes.
The bowl needs to be small enough to sit inside the saucepan but be able to rest on the outer rim of the saucepan edges. Don’t use a bowl that touches the base of the saucepan.
Cut your beeswax into chunks and put them in the metal bowl. You should see the wax start to melt as the water underneath heats up. Add your paraffin or candle wax to the mix.
The amount of wax you use will depend on the size of your project. Aim for a 50:50 ratio of the different waxes. For most small to medium throw pillows, you’re looking at around 4oz of beeswax to 4oz of candle or paraffin wax.
For best results, warm your fabric up before treating it with wax. Leaving it in the dryer on a medium setting for about 20 minutes should do the trick. If the material still feels cool when the dryer stops, give it another 10 minutes. The material needs to be warm to the touch but not too hot that it burns your hands.
Once the wax has turned into a liquid, it’s ready to use. Grab your paintbrush and start to apply the melted wax to the surface of your fabric. Work methodically from top to bottom, left to right. In that way, you can ensure all the material is covered by wax. You need to give it a liberal coating. Wear rubber gloves for this to prevent any drips of wax from touching your skin.
Using your hairdryer, dry the wax-coated fabric. Drying with heat helps the wax seep deeper into the fibers. You can also put the item in your dryer for this. Just make sure to put it inside a pillowcase, so you don’t get wax all over the inside of the dryer.
Once dry, leave the item to air for a minimum of 24 hours before using it. This will help lift any residual smell from the wax. It will also make sure it’s completely dry.
3. Commercial ProductsThe easiest way to make fabric waterproof is to use commercial products. Things like Scotchgard, Thompsons Water Seal for Fabric, and Nikwax TX Direct, are designed specifically for waterproofing material.
They can be purchased online from Amazon or your local big box store. Most come in the form of a spray and are simple to apply.
You will need:
- A commercial product of your choice
- Well ventilated area
- Facemask and goggles
Make sure your fabric is completely clean and dry. Then identify the fiber content. Some fabrics can be damaged by chemical products.
Read the instructions on the product’s packaging for the best way to apply it to your fabric. Make sure the directions indicate the product is safe to use on your particular material.
Put on your facemask and goggles. Spray the product on your project in a well-ventilated area, or better still, go outside to do this. Make sure it’s a non-windy day.
Follow the application directions on the can of your product. Generally, this usually asks you to hold the can about 6 inches away from your project and spray in a sweeping side-to-side motion.
Do one side of your fabric at a time. Leave the first side to dry before turning the item over to do the back. An hour should be ample. When both sides of the fabric have been sprayed, leave the fabric to completely dry for a minimum of 24 hours.
4. Iron-on VinylThis method doesn’t involve sprays or melting solids into liquids. It’s safe to use around children and pets and doesn’t need a major clean-up afterward. Better still, vinyl won’t alter any colors within the fabric.
Vinyl works best on projects that don’t require regular washing. Things that can be wiped clean are perfect for a vinyl coating. You’re looking at tablecloths, lunch bags, and even shopping bags. You can buy iron-on vinyl fabric from many craft stores and fabric retailers both on and offline.
You will need:
- Iron-on vinyl fabric
- Your iron
- Tape measure
- Vacuum cleaner
- Washing machine
- Your usual laundry detergent
Make sure your fabric is dry and clean. If there are any traces of stains or debris, wash the item using your usual detergent and machine setting. Or suck up any residual dirt with your vacuum cleaner.
Lay your item on a flat surface and smooth out any lumps, bumps, or wrinkles. Measure the area you want to cover with the vinyl. Cut the vinyl to match the fabric item’s dimensions. You want to work on one side at a time. Don’t cut the vinyl to go around the item, as vinyl doesn’t bend that well.
Follow the manufacturers’ directions on how to apply the vinyl. Usually, there is a sticky side that needs to be face down on the fabric. Peel off the backing paper and place the vinyl sticky-side down on the material. Then, cover the top of the vinyl with the backing paper. Make sure the shiny side of the paper is next to the vinyl.
Iron the vinyl onto the fabric using medium heat. Peel off the protective paper and check if the vinyl has stuck firmly to the fabric.
5. Linseed Oil and Mineral SpiritsLinseed oil is a popular preservative for wood and concrete and is found in paints, varnishes, and wood stains. It’s also known as flaxseed oil and is a yellowish liquid taken from ripe flax seeds.
There are a couple of safety issues to watch out for if you will be using linseed oil:
- The mixture of boiled linseed oil and mineral spirits can catch fire easily.
- Boiled linseed oil is not designed to be used anywhere near food.
- Once treated, your fabric will stink for a couple of weeks, so this isn’t a quick fix.
Fabrics that can be waterproofed using this option are limited to hardwearing and durable working fabrics. Things like outside canvas covers, tarpaulins, and tents. Don’t use boiled linseed oil on your tablecloth!
You will need:
- Boiled linseed oil
- Mineral spirits
- Large bucket
- A dry, non-windy day
- Outside drying space
- Rubber gloves
- A friend
Put on your facemask and rubber gloves. Mix your boiled linseed oil and mineral spirits in the bucket. Use a 50:50 ratio. The actual amount you use will depend on the size of the fabric you are treating. Lower the fabric into the mix until it is completely covered.
Leave the fabric in the mixture until it is completely saturated. Then, remove the fabric and open it out. With the help of a friend, stretch the fabric out until it is free from wrinkles. Hang on a clothesline outdoors for 2-3 days. Don’t double it up! Both sides need to be exposed to the air.
Dispose of the used linseed oil and mineral spirits safely. Do not pour the used solution down the sink! Linseed oil is considered hazardous waste and should be disposed of at your local hazardous waste facility.
6. Paraffin WaxAs well as combining paraffin wax with beeswax for an effective waterproof solution, you can also use it on its own. Unlike beeswax, paraffin wax is inexpensive and readily available from most grocery outlets.
However, one of the reasons paraffin wax is usually mixed with beeswax is that the beeswax gives the item more flexibility. Paraffin wax has a lower melting point, though, so it tends to be safer to use.
Due to the method used to make fabric waterproof with paraffin wax, this option should be reserved for smaller items. You’ll also need a well-ventilated area as paraffin wax can be smelly until it’s dried.
You will need:
- Paraffin wax pellets
- Baking sheet
Heat your oven to around 300°F. While it’s getting up to temperature, put your fabric onto the baking sheet. Sprinkle paraffin wax pellets all over the surface of the fabric. If you cannot get pellets, grate a block of paraffin wax into small pieces.
Put the baking sheet into your oven and let the wax melt over the fabric. Depending on the surface area of your fabric, you might have to do this more than once.
Once the fabric is completely covered, remove it from the baking sheet and open it out. Dry it flat by removing any folds or creases.
7. Soybean Oil and TurpentineThe addition of turpentine in this method makes this one as potentially dangerous as the linseed oil option. Turpentine, or turps, is flammable and smelly. As another hazardous waste product, it cannot be disposed of down the drain or via any sewer system.
You will need:
- Soybean oil
- 1 tablespoon of turpentine
- 1-inch paintbrush
- Spray bottle
- Rubber gloves
Wearing your facemask and gloves, mix the soybean oil with the turpentine. You can use a bucket or a spray bottle for this. You don’t need a lot of turps. In fact, the less you use, the better. Depending on how much fabric you are treating, you’ll need around 1 cup of soybean oil to a tablespoon of turps.
Hang the fabric outside, or lay it flat on the ground. You want to make sure there are no wrinkles, folds, or creases. Spray the soybean oil and turps mix onto the fabric. Alternatively, you can use the bucket and a paintbrush to paint the mixture onto the surface of the material. Work on one side at a time.
When the first side is dry, flip the fabric over and do the other side. Dry the treated fabric flat. The best place to do this is outside, as turpentine can be overpowering and lead to a feeling of light-headedness.
Once dry, allow the treated fabric to air so any remaining smells can disappear. Then your waterproof fabric is ready to use. Make sure to dispose of the turps and soybean oil mix in a responsible manner. Do not be tempted to pour it down your toilet or sink.
Are DIY Fabric Waterproof Methods Permanent?
Unfortunately no, the DIY remedies to make fabric waterproof are not permanent. All you’re doing is adding a temporary coating of a water-resistant substance. The actual fabric is still non-waterproof.
Known as a DWR, which stands for durable water repellant, the coatings can and do wear off. Even commercial water-resistant sprays have a lifespan and need to be reapplied. It’s part of the process to expect to renew the waterproof protection every so often.
If you use one of the wax-based options, you’ll find that the treatment can wash off in hot water. Wax can also become sticky in direct sunlight. Even using iron-on vinyl can have its problems.
Vinyl wears away through use. If you use it on a seating area, the constant friction caused by continual sitting and standing can damage the vinyl. Exposure to direct sunlight can make the adhesive break down, causing the vinyl to peel away.
It’s not all bad news, though. You should find the water-resistance strong enough for at least one summer season, if not a little longer. As a rule of thumb, you could be looking at a time span between 6-8 months, depending on how often the item is used or washed.
To make your waterproof fabric last a little longer, make sure you wash a wax-treated object infrequently and only in cold water. Adding some shade to your patio will limit damage from the sun for both wax and vinyl-treated projects.
More good news, all the DIY methods are easy to reapply when they start to fail. You could make it part of your yearly maintenance routine. That way, using a DIY method to make your fabric waterproof could last for years.
Can You Waterproof a Non-Waterproof Jacket?
Yes, you can waterproof a non-waterproof jacket. Even if it’s made from fabric, you won’t dream of getting wet. Suede, for instance, is well known for being water phobic. The slightest moisture can ruin the material. Many owners of suede jackets dread getting caught out in the rain.
Which can be a problem. Suede coats are meant for cold winters with inclement weather. As winter tends to be wet and cold, this can mean not wearing your jacket until the weather improves.
A waterproof treatment on a suede jacket takes away the fear of getting the fabric wet. Treat it with a commercial product designed for suede and you don’t have to worry about sudden downpours. The same goes for any non-waterproof jacket.
However, you have to watch the treatment you add to your jacket. Regardless of whether it’s suede or some other non-waterproof fabric.
Not all waterproof remedies are compatible with all materials. Using the wrong one can damage your non-waterproof jacket. From a drastic change in drape and appearance to the chances of melted fibers.
Make sure you know what your jacket is made from before applying any waterproof product. It doesn’t matter if you’re using a DIY option or a commercial spray. Check the fiber content first and use a product suitable for that type of material.
What Fabric Items Can You Waterproof?
You can waterproof pretty much any fabric item. Consider the use of the fabric first, though. You don’t want to waterproof any material you wear next to your skin, like your underwear or a shirt.
Making fabric waterproof has an inherent disadvantage. It can restrict the moveability and general flexibility of the textile. So while it’s OK to waterproof a denim jacket, you wouldn’t want to waterproof your denim jeans. Although it’s essentially the same fabric, the garments need to move differently. Waterproof jeans would be uncomfortable and stiff to wear.
Having said that, any fabric item you would use outdoors or as an outer layer can be waterproofed. Items like outdoor throw pillows, beach bags, picnic blankets, overcoats, and shoes are all things that can benefit from a waterproof treatment.
Can You Buy Waterproof Fabric for Clothing?
Yes, you can buy waterproof fabric for clothing. You can purchase it by the yard, the half yard, and even as a bolt or roll. Although it is readily available from many online outlets, local retailers may not stock it due to space limitations and lack of demand.
Fabrics to look out for include ripstop nylon, marine vinyl, and waterproof canvas. Duck cloth and a ripstop fabric made from polyester are also suitable textiles for waterproof clothing. You can also use olefin, which is possibly the most waterproof fabric you can get.
Prices can vary depending on the outlet you buy the material from, the quality, and the thickness of the fabric. The style or pattern of the textile will also make a difference. A camouflage design may set you back more than a plain green. You can pay anywhere between $8-$30 per yard.
Making fabric waterproof is simple! You can use commercial sprays like Scotchguard or a DIY method like beeswax. Either way, you’ll be able to enjoy your fabric outdoors even after the heaviest rain shower.
If you liked this article, let me know in the comments. Have you ever made your fabric waterproof? What method did you use? How did you get on?