How to Make a Jacket Water-Resistant

Follow these easy instructions to wax a jacket and make it water-resistant this winter.

‘Tis the season for water-repellent jackets, raincoats and technical shells. When you think about waterproofing a jacket, images of harsh, chemical-laden, heat-released coatings or laminates come to mind, especially if you are attempting to treat a technical shell made from synthetic materials. Today, we are going to focus on a jacket made from natural materials –- medium-weight cotton duck canvas –- and simply make it water-resistant by applying a coat of wax to it.

In terms of wax, I am a big fan of Otter Wax from Portland, Ore., because it doesn’t use any animal fats, fillers, petroleum distillates, mineral oil or chemical preservatives. It uses a combination of plant-based ingredients and humanely harvested beeswax and lanolin and still achieves a water-resistant result. It also has a heat-activated fabric dressing for large projects, which is also pretty simple to apply.

Things You’ll Need

  • 1 bar of heavy-duty fabric wax

Make sure the surface of your jacket is clean, and test a small area in a discrete place before you go for the whole enchilada. You want to make sure you are happy with the finish, so if you don’t like the way it looks, no one has to know. You can achieve a “leathery” look by applying a heavy-duty coating, or if you go for a light application, it will have a matte, dusty finish.

Apply the wax directly to the jacket in long, broad strokes. Don’t be afraid to put some effort into it, because the more friction you generate, the more easily the wax spreads. You should be able to tell where you have applied the wax vs. where you haven’t, depending on the color of the fabric.

After you have coated a good portion of the fabric, use your fingers to smooth the wax in. This helps it bond.

Use the edge of the bar to get into creases, seams and hard-to-reach places such as armholes and pockets.

Really get in there and push the wax around. Show it who’s boss. The more “smudging” you do, the more effective that evenly applied layer becomes.

Move to the next panel of your jacket and repeat the coating steps.

If wax builds up on a seam, just rub it in until it feels smooth. It should appear to have a hard edge.

Here you can see the contrast between the waxed side and the unwaxed side.

When you are finished rewrap your leftover wax in paper or the original packaging, and save it for a rainy day.

Let the waxed jacket cure in a warm and dry place for 24 to 72 hours before you take it for a test run outside.

You should re-wax your outerwear every season or at least once a year, especially in high-traffic areas such as knees, elbows and hoods. You can also apply wax using this same technique to baseball hats, tote bags or canvas sneakers for another seasonally appropriate project.

All photos by: Jeanine Pesce & Cooper Gill