Is Cotton Waterproof?


Can you trust your waterproof clothing in the rain? Learn more about how cotton holds up against water in this post.

Cotton fabric is not considered waterproof, but cotton canvas can be water-resistant. However, cotton fabric or canvas can receive waterproof treatment through a hydrophobic spray and other methods.

Cotton is an incredibly popular material when it comes to clothing. It’s comfortable, breathable, and natural – so it makes sense that so many people want to wear it just about anywhere. However, cotton may not be an ideal choice by itself when you need something that will be able to protect you from water.

While all of that may be true, you can still find ways to use cotton that will be able to hold up better in wet weather. Cotton canvas, as well as waterproof cotton fabric, are both capable of providing the protection you need. Continue on and you’ll learn all you need to know about cotton, cotton canvas, and how to waterproof cotton items yourself.

Is Cotton Actually Waterproof Or Water Resistant?

There could be any number of reasons you might be wondering if cotton is waterproof.

It’s entirely possible you may have heard about different situations where cotton has proven itself to be waterproof or water-resistant. On the other hand, you may just be shopping for some solid waterproof clothing that you can wear outdoors without having to worry about getting soaked through.

In short, cotton as a fabric is not typically waterproof or even water-resistant. In fact, cotton is considered hydrophilic, meaning water easily attaches to it and doesn’t want to leave. By itself, cotton as outdoor clothing is more likely to absorb water and continue to feel wet against your skin.

However, there are ways to work with cotton that allows it to be more resistant to water.

When it comes to cotton clothing, you don’t really find a lot of cotton clothes labeled as waterproof. What you can find are waterproof shells with cotton lining. In spite of that, there are also products you can use on cotton clothing in order to waterproof it yourself (we’ll go into those steps for you later).

Even though cotton as a fabric is not waterproof, cotton can also be used to make cotton canvas, which is used to make tents. Cotton tents? How does this work? What’s the point of a tent made out of a hydrophilic fabric? We’ll learn more about this below.

Unless it has been waterproofed, cotton may not be the best idea for an outer layer, but could it work well as a base layer? There’s quite a debate about whether or not using cotton as your base layer is actually a good idea. Don’t worry, we’ll cover everything you need to know about how cotton functions as a base layer in our article on the topic here.

What About Cotton Canvas?

Unlike the cotton fabric often used in clothing, cotton canvas can actually considered water-resistant. However, it’s worthwhile to understand what this actually means in terms of the material.

Many people are likely to think that water-resistant means that the water won’t have an effect on the material until a certain amount of time has passed. Some other materials out there are water-resistant in the sense that they actually are hydrophobic, which means that the water is kept on the outside of the surface.

However, cotton canvas actually does absorb the water it comes into contact with. Think of a cotton canvas tent, for example. If there is light rain, the canvas will absorb a certain amount of the water initially. Because of that absorption, the individual threads of the canvas will swell up and block additional rain drops- meaning it’s harder for any more water to enter the material. This makes cotton canvas tents a great option if what you’re dealing with is mist or light, infrequent rain.

That said, heavy rain can eventually make its way through the canvas, allowing water to reach the inside of your tent. When you’re out in nature, you want your shelter to prevent this exact problem which is why it’s a good idea to either purchase a waterproof cotton canvas tent or learn how to waterproof the material yourself.

With so many tents available these days, why would someone want to opt for a canvas tent? Whether it’s made of cotton canvas or not, canvas tents can often be heavier and take more time to set up. That said, they can certainly be worth the effort. Discover why canvas tents easily beat out the competition in our article on the subject here.

How Can Cotton Be Waterproofed?

Nobody really wants to go out and spend money specifically on waterproofed cotton materials when they already have cotton at home. Whether it’s cotton clothing or an old cotton canvas tent that hasn’t already been waterproofed, it can be more appealing to waterproof what you already have than to purchase all new items.

Instead, learning how to waterproof cotton on your own can be a great way to save money and help your cotton items to last longer. For the most part, waterproofing cotton clothing will require different products and processes than waterproofing cotton canvas, but neither is very difficult.

Below, we’ll point you in the right direction for waterproofing both kinds of cotton.

Waterproofing Cotton Clothing

If you already own plenty of cotton clothing and just need to make it more resistant to water, then you can add that extra protection on your own. While it isn’t too difficult, it does typically require that you purchase some kind of special treatment to use on your cotton clothing. Some of the top options for waterproofing cotton clothes include Otter Wax, Granger’s, and Cotton Proof from Nikwax.

Whichever option you choose is going to have its own instructions, so make sure that you follow them carefully. For example, Cotton Proof (Amazon or NixWax’s website)is a detergent meant to be used on clean clothes, because the job of the detergent isn’t to clean. Instead, it adds extra protection to your clothing items to keep them safe around water. On the other hand, Otter Wax (Amazon or Otter Wax’s website) is a wax that needs to be added to your clothing manually. Many outdoor enthusiasts are particularly fond of Otter Wax because it’s made with natural ingredients.

Whichever option you choose, make sure that you test out the results before taking your newly-waterproofed clothing out on a trip. It’s always better to be safe rather than soaked!

Also, be aware, that any waterproofed fabric is only temporarily waterproofed. Eventually any coating you use will wear off eventually.

Waterproofing Cotton Canvas

If the cotton canvas you’re purchasing is in the form of a tent, it’s likely that it may already be waterproofed. It’s worthwhile to make sure before you try it out or spend time adding more waterproofing to it. For those who are just considering cotton canvas, it is possible to buy versions that either are or are not waterproof. Often, cotton canvas that has already been waterproofed can be quite a bit more expensive than standard options.

When it comes to waterproofing cotton canvas on your own, the options can be a bit different than when you’re waterproofing standard cotton fabric. Due to the durability of the canvas, it can be easier to use something like a simple silicone waterproofing spray. For example, something like Kiwi Camp Dry (Amazon or Kiwi Care’s website) spray can be an ideal solution to ensuring your cotton canvas isn’t able to soak through.

I’ve personally used Kiwi Camp Dry (I still have a bottle of it) to waterproof my tent and it’s been effective. It’s easy to use, although make sure you don’t inhale the stuff.

While choosing a product to waterproof your cotton canvas, keep breathability in mind. Cotton canvas is an ideal material because that breathability allows it to regulate temperature more easily than other materials. If you use a waterproofing product on it that limits that breathability, you may have a harder time warming up or cooling down as needed.

This may be more complicated then you were hoping for. When you treat a fabric, its breathability properties are changed and that can impact thermoregulation a lot. Your tent can become stuffy and humid without airflow. If your tent has proper vents and you stretch out the fabrics to allow air in, you shouldn’t have problems. A tent, after all, is meant to keep the elements out. I just wanted to warn you that you are affecting how the fabric works.

Which Types Of Fabric Are Waterproof?

Although cotton is a fantastic option, it may not always be the best choice.

Depending on what kind of item you want to be waterproof, you might find that other fabrics already have the situation handled better than cotton ever could. For example, things like raincoats, tents, and even socks may have fabric options that far surpass the capabilities of cotton.

While you’re taking a look at these fabric choices, keep in mind that some of them, such as nylon and polyester, are not water-resistant on their own. For these kinds of fabrics, it’s important to find options that have been treated to make them waterproof or to make sure you treat them yourself, before testing them out in a wet environment.

Polyurethane Laminate

While not many people may walk around using the words “polyurethane laminate” often when they are looking for clothing or tent materials that can withstand the rain, it’s a material that is actually quite reliable and popular. Essentially, polyurethane laminate is a type of polyester that is combined with a laminate material to make it more resistant to water.

If you’re wondering just how durable the material is, consider the fact that it’s actually used in gear meant for watersports. On top of that, it’s also a material considered reliable enough to use in medical situations. People often find that outerwear using polyurethane laminate is comfortable, durable, and it provides a higher level of softness on the skin than laminated cotton.

Wool

Wool is a material humans have relied on for a long time, and for very good reason! High-quality, pure wool clothing does a great job of both regulating your body temperature and keeping water at bay (within reason). If you spend a long period of time in the soaking rain, a wool coat will eventually soak through. But wool seems to pull the moisture away from your body.

The reason for this is that the wool actually absorbs the water it comes into contact with. According to Weatherwool.com, the material is capable of absorbing up to 30% of its weight before it will even begin to feel wet. For the most part, the capabilities of wool are due to a substance called lanolin, which can be found on any woolen animal. Just keep in mind that lanolin can wear off over time, so you’ll have to add more to your wool clothing to ensure it’s able to keep you as comfortable as possible.

Laminated Cotton

If you’d rather have more natural fabrics as an option than polyurethane laminate, laminated cotton is a solid choice. It is worth keeping in mind that laminated cotton doesn’t offer quite the same level of protection, but it’s still a great tool as long as you remember to dress in layers and pay attention to how much water might actually be soaking through your clothing.

Used in a variety of clothing items including hats, raincoats, and even clothing designed for skiing, laminated cotton definitely doesn’t fall too far behind the other options on this list. The lamination still provides excellent waterproofing, making it a reliable choice for those who want to stay dry and do their part to protect the environment.

Remember, though, that lamination can wear off and so that waterproof layer may give out sometime.

Polyester

Polyester, much like standard cotton canvas, is not entirely waterproof without some kind of additional treatment. However, polyester is considered to be water-resistant. It will still soak through at some point, but in weather that is only slightly wet, it can do a great job of keeping most of the water away from your skin.

Due to the fabric properties and also due to different weaves, polyester is thought to be hydrophobic. That means that, unlike cotton canvas, polyester doesn’t absorb the water that comes into contact with it. Instead, it keeps the water on the surface of the fabric. What is worth keeping in mind is that polyester is only as effective as its thread count. The higher that thread count is, the better job it will do of repelling water.

Nylon

Similar to polyester, nylon typically ends up being a good base to use when you want a water-resistant material. It isn’t resistant to water in any way by itself but can end up being very useful in wet conditions once it has been treated.

While we might typically think of hosiery when considering the uses of nylon, the fabric can actually be used in a huge variety of ways. Some campers may opt to use nylon backpacks or nylon outdoor clothing. If you take a closer look, you’ll even find that many high-quality tents use a form of nylon known as “ripstop nylon”. In some cases, this material might be used alongside polyester so that campers can get the protection both materials provide.

Special Brand-Based Fabrics

More often than not, you can get fantastic results when you shop for clothing items and other gear made with the rain in mind. Although it can often be less expensive to waterproof your items yourself, not everyone wants to take on that hassle. Instead, they would rather spend a little more on long-lasting, durable waterproof brands that can keep up with all of their outdoor activities.

Not to mention, there are plenty of options out there. Depending on what you’re looking for specifically, you’ll find that brands like Taslan, Gore-Tex, Neoprene, and more will provide items that will keep you dry and comfortable. These brands are able to provide waterproof, durable options for everything from clothing to tents and other camping gear so you’ll be prepared to take on the wilderness without ending up soaked and uncomfortable.

Specifically, many campers and hikers have found that wearing Neoprene socks really helps to keep their feet dry and comfortable, whether they’re trying to avoid sweat buildup or have to walk through creeks or puddles. Additionally, Neoprene socks can even help to protect against blisters. If that’s not enough to show you that Neoprene socks are worthwhile, our article here will provide several more benefits that these socks are able to provide.

Peter

Peter is a software developer who loves to take every opportunity to go outside that he can get. Peter grew up going on long backpacking excursions with his family every Summer and now enjoys staying at the beautiful Texas State Parks and swimming in the amazing Texas Rivers.

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