A Little History of Waxed Canvas

Before the development of vinyl, nylon and “pleather” that had inherent water-resistant and water-repellent qualities, gear and clothing was waterproofed by applying wax.

As we learned in our article on leather vs. waxed canvas, sailors of the 1500’s would use grease and fish oils to treat their sails. The concoction was smelly but very effective at making the sail catch the wind (vs. blowing right through) while lasting a looooooong time. Remnants of the used sails were often converted to protective clothing or wraps to keep mariners dry.

The 1800’s brought new approaches to waterproofing, including paraffin and linseed oil. Paraffin waxes, made from petroleum products, were developed.

We don’t recommend plain paraffin wax for treating gear and clothing today; you want a blend. In so many words, don't just grab a candle off your shelf and go to town on your bag or jacket.

The early 1920’s brought the perfected process into manufacturing, and waxed canvas was used in the production of shave kits, gun cases, clothing, tents, backpacks, and other all-weather gear.

Be aware that cotton is natural, organic material and can have subtle color and hand-feel variations during creation that may cause variation in the shade and level of wax from batch to batch. We do our very best during handcrafting to keep any variances in color to a minimum. 

Wax is a ‘wet’ finish, meaning it's not chemically sprayed onto the fabric (as is a synthetic waxed version). The wax is pressed into the cotton fibers under carefully controlled temperature and pressure. The surface of waxed cotton will mark and crease where handled, and come off when scraped. These markings / scratches are not faults and are a normal, inherent characteristic of the waxed finish. Any "oily" feel of the fabric will also dry during the product age and wear, creating an appearance unique to the individual owner.


Re-waxing your entire product every year or two is fine, depending on usage. Our waxed canvas is very durable, with a wax finish that is long lasting. If you're Mission Mercantile waxed cotton canvas leather good is your constant companion, the more you may wear off some wax and want to re-wax to make it more weather resistant.

It also very much depends on the "look" you want. You just don't want to re-wax it too often so you don't get too much build-up. If you end up with too much wax, just heat it with a hair dryer (or heatgun) and wipe off the excess with a clean cloth.

For spot dirt / grease / ink / etc removal, re-wax whenever it's necessary to remove the offending spot and restore the finish. Simply wipe the spot with a clean, white cloth to remove the surface spot (dampen the cloth if helpful) and then “re-float” the wax (blend in by melting) using your hairdryer (on the hottest setting) or heatgun (on a cooler setting). If necessary, apply additional wax and continue blending until the offending spot disappears. 

If you want to wax or re-wax your product at home, we’ve got a few tips for you below. Just keep in mind that using this method to wax your item for the very first time (not re-waxing) isn’t as thorough as the process used to impregnate and create our waxed cotton canvas raw material. Wax doesn't coat the hollow cotton fibers, rather it fills them. Initial waxing takes a little time ... and patience.

This process may be used to easily re-wax an existing piece of gear or clothing. To be certain, though, it’s also always good to check with the manufacturer for specific instructions on what they recommend.

We’ve waxed / re-waxed a lot of products over the years and tried multiple techniques and recommend the following method. If you'd like us to re-wax your Mission Mercantile product we're happy to do it. The cost depends on the product (and if we're removing a stubborn spot) but typically isn't too costly. Please reach out to shopkeeper@missionmercantile.com for a price.

Other techniques of melting the wax and painting it on with a brush is too messy and coats the fabric with more wax than necessary, while the ironing method is a bit too cumbersome not to mention the iron cleanup.


To touch up and easily remove scratches or blend in lighter / darker spots, your hair dryer will do a great job. Simply turn on your hair dry to its hottest setting and let it warm up a few seconds. You may also use a heat gun on its lowest (coolest) setting. Using a circular motion, warm the waxed cotton canvas fabric and you'll see the scratches (as well as any lighter spots) disappear. When it looks good to your satisfaction, let the fabric cool for a couple of minutes and you're good to go!

To re-wax your canvas, please follow these instructions. First you'll need these items:

  • Cotton canvas fabric gear or apparel
  • Wax (more on this later)
  • Clean wax applicator sponges or pads (may be found at your local car care center or online)
  • Clean white cloth
  • 1500W heat gun (preferably with adjustable temperature settings; find it at your local hardware store or online)


One of our absolute favorites (and what we use) is Martexin Original Wax made by the Martin Dyeing & Finishing Company, using their proprietary formula that gives the fabric lifelong resistance to inclement weather. Originally developed in the early 1900s, the Martexin formula consists of food and pharmaceutical grade waxes, and is completely non-hazardous.


Step 1

Turn on your heat gun and let it warm up. Using a circular motion, pre-warm the cotton canvas fabric. Then, lightly warm your bar or can of wax until it begins to melt. Remember, your goal isn’t to completely liquefy the wax but rather soften it.

Step 2

Using your applicator sponge or pad, get a generous amount of wax and rub it onto the cotton canvas fabric. This make take a little practice; don’t worry about getting too much, as any excess will soak into the fabric. Be sure to apply enough so you can see a visible layer of wax.

Different brands of wax may apply a bit differently. You can gauge the amount according to your preference.

If you accidentally get wax on your buttons, zippers or seams – no worries. You can wipe those off with a clean, white cloth when you’re done. If needed, lightly warm any over-application areas and wipe clean.

Step 3

After thoroughly applying the wax, use the heat gun in a circular motion about 4-6” from the fabric surface to infuse the wax into the fabric. Depending on the temperature setting or strength of your heat gun, you may need to adjust the setting to a cooler temperature or move further away from the fabric.

With practice you’ll be able to easily gauge when the approach is enough to move the wax into the fabric instead of over-melting the wax. Work at a pace that keeps the heat gun moving. Don’t let the heat gun stay in one spot for too long; keep using the circular motion!

Step 4

Once you work in the wax to your liking, set aside your waxed cotton canvas item and let it cool down and dry for about 24 hours. Don’t fold, crease or stack your items. A hanger or drying rack works well.

Your waxed items should now be ready for use. They will continue “earn their character” while they age beautifully. Depending on use, you may want to re-wax every year (or not, your choice!). The good news is that by using this approach you’ll find it practically impossible to over do it. If you apply too much wax, simply use the heat gun to blend it evenly into the fabric, or use the clean, white cloth to wipe away any excess.

Don’t ever wash your waxed items. Soap or detergent will remove the wax, not to mention the likelihood of unintentionally transferring wax onto your other non-waxed items (or your worst nightmare, the inside of your washer).

To clean a waxed cotton canvas item, simply wipe it with a clean, white cloth and then “re-float” the wax (blend in by melting) using your heat gun or hairdryer (on the High setting). If necessary, apply additional wax and continue blending until the offending spot disappears. Magic!

Before (top) / After cleaning & re-waxing (bottom):

 Waxed Canvas Cleaning before-and-afterWaxed Canvas Cleaning before-and-afterWaxed Canvas Cleaning before-and-after