How to Waterproof Fabric

How to Waterproof Fabric


George Cummings
November 24, 2021

As your only lifeline in the great outdoors, you want all of your camping gear to be as reliable as possible, including being resistant to the drastic and unexpected changes in weather.

Learning how to waterproof your camping gear can give it another layer of strength and protection, and put your mind at ease in the process.

How do you waterproof fabric? There are a few methods out there for waterproofing fabric but the easiest approach is using a commercially made waterproofing spray that can be applied directly to it.

These are designed to resist water and will help it to bead and roll off the fabric, which can be a lifesaver when you apply it to your camping gear.

Learning how to waterproof fabric is a cinch and before you head off on your next adventure into the great outdoors, it’s something you should do to all of your vital equipment.

This guide will walk you through the process and impart some helpful tips about waterproofing, ensuring you and your gear are ready for anything.

The History of Fabric Waterproofing

The History of Fabric Waterproofing

The ease of a waterproofing spray or the convenience of wearing a raincoat isn’t something that society has always had.

The earliest use of waterproofing methods was in the 1800s where people used to wear oiled cotton as it helps to resist the rain, but the downsides of feeling greasy, heavy, and smelling bad didn’t make it all that beneficial.

From there, inventions included fabric that had been pressed with liquid rubber, and finally vulcanized rubber that was used for raincoats and the like.

The first commercially available waterproofing sprays wouldn’t be available until a century later, and these weren’t originally invented for clothing and personal items, and people relied on everyday items like soap and wax to get the job done.

Today, waterproofing sprays designed for fabric are the easiest approach, but some still prefer the traditional methods.

Depending on the fabric you’re trying to protect, there are lots of options for natural and synthetic waterproofing applications that can get the job done, and some are more suited to the rugged requirements of camping than others.

The Best Fabrics to Waterproof

As well as having the right waterproofing substance, you also need to think about what materials will respond to being waterproofed the best.

When it comes to camping gear, this means choosing fabrics that are designed for the great outdoors and those that’ll be receptive to another coating of waterproofing.

Some popular options used today include wool, nylon, polyester, vinyl, plastic, and anything that’s been densely woven.

These are naturally water-resistant, to begin with, and applying another coating of waterproofing protection to them makes them especially suited to the requirements of camping.

Most of the equipment and accessories made for camping have this need for water resistance in mind already and are made with the right materials to make it so, and possibly also a waterproof coating on top.

However, by applying additional waterproofing at home, your camping gear will be extra tough against moisture and guaranteed to keep its shape for years to come.

How to Waterproof Fabric

How to Waterproof Fabric

There are lots of methods available for waterproofing fabric, including using wax or soap to seal it. For the easiest approach, we recommend using a commercially made waterproofing spray that gets the job done efficiently and quickly.

The Tools and Equipment

  • Waterproofing spray
  • Coat hanger

Steps to Follow

  1. Read the instructions and manufacturer recommendations first to ensure you’re using the waterproofing spray correctly.
  2. Find a covered area with no direct sunlight and hang the item you’re waterproofing on it. If larger, use a clothesline and drape it over the top so you have access to all parts of it.
  3. Hold the waterproofing can spray between six and eight inches away from the item and then apply it in gentle strokes, taking care to overlap slightly with each one.
  4. Leave the spray to dry without touching it, which usually takes a few hours.
  5. Once dry, apply a second coat of waterproofing spray just as you did the first. Leave it again to dry for a few hours.

Other Ways You Can Waterproof

A can of waterproofing spray is certainly the easiest approach, but it might not be the right one for every camper. Here are some of the other popular methods you can use to waterproof fabric and what benefits they offer:

  • Wax: A combination of beeswax and paraffin wax can be melted down and then applied directly to the fabric with a paintbrush. This is a natural approach but can leave a scent of wax that’s hard to get rid of.
  • Laundry detergent and alum: Aluminum potassium sulfate is a common food additive found in baking powder and you can combine it with laundry detergent to waterproof fabrics. This is a cheap alternative but does take a little more effort.
  • Vinyl: Vinyl has been used for decades to waterproof and it can be purchased in most fabric stores. The vinyl is ironed onto the surface of the fabric that you want to waterproof and will have a glossy finish once it’s done.

Pro Tips

Pro Tips

Any time you’re headed to the great outdoors you need to be prepared for anything, including the chance that you might get wet.

We’ve got a few extra tips on waterproofing your camping gear that will ensure you’re protected from even the heaviest of showers.

  • Coat everything: You don’t only have to waterproof your tent and backpack, and the more you can cover, the better. Other items to waterproof include picnic rugs, hats, clothing, shoes, outdoor cushions, and anything else that might be exposed to moisture.
  • Use a seam sealer: Camping gear needs an additional layer of protection, so applying a seam sealer once the waterproofing is done is recommended. This ensures nothing gets through the seams of the backpack, tent, or whatever else you’re waterproofing and it’s squeezed directly into the seams.
  • Waterproof before you go: This isn’t a job that you should be doing on your campsite, so make sure you’ve waterproofed at home. You’ll need a day where the weather is fine and not windy, and to give at least eight hours both for coats of waterproofing spray to be dried and effective.
  • Choose carefully: Some waterproofing options like linseed oil and turpentine aren’t recommended for camping equipment or anything that comes into contact with human skin. Make sure that whatever approach you take to waterproofing is safe for human use and suitable for camping as well.
  • Test it out: Not all waterproofing sprays were made equally and you don’t want to find out halfway through your camping trip that it didn’t take. You may need to experiment with different products before you find one that gets the job done, and this could mean using a certain spray for each type of fabric you have.

Keeping the Water At Bay

With weather forecasts not being as reliable as we hope they could be, knowing that your camping gear has been protected against the wet is the next best thing.

Waterproofing the fabric of your tent, sleeping bag, and backpacks gives you peace of mind that money can’t buy, so make sure you tackle this job before your camping trip.

Related Questions

Waterproofing is one of the best ways to safeguard your gear while you’re camping, but there are lots of other things you can do.

We’ve answered some commonly asked questions about how to protect your gear while camping, so check them out if you’re looking for guidance.

Can You Lock A Tent?

Some tents come with a locking mechanism on them that prevents anyone from accessing them from the outside but they aren’t as reliable as a standard door lock.

You can purchase aftermarket locks and accessories to give your campsite and tent a boost of security if you’re feeling hesitant about camping safely.

How Do You Animal-Proof a Cooler?

How Do You Animal-Proof a Cooler?

To prevent small and large wildlife from accessing your cooler while camping, you should always have it locked and never leave food out.

Secure the cooler with a rope and hang it from a tree at night which will prevent bears and other large animals from being able to find it on the ground.

How Do You Keep Bears Away From Your Campsite?

It’s impossible to deter bears entirely from your campsite but there are some things you can do to make it less attractive.

Store food away in a sealed cooler, never leave trash or scraps around, wash cooking utensils immediately, change your clothes after cooking in them, and have a bear spray with you in your tent at night as you sleep.


George Cummings

George Cummings enjoys connecting with nature, meeting new people, and making friends from all over the world. RVing and camping create the perfect opportunity for [him/her] to take part in these activities. After spending several years on the road and exploring the great outdoors, George Cummings shares some of his best pieces of advice on how to make the most of your time while camping. TourTheOutdoors is his way of helping outdoorsy individuals like [him/her] start on a right footing with amazing recommendations and buying guides.