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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. 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 paraffin wax for treating gear and clothing today because of the chemicals used.
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.
If you want to recreate the process at home, we’ve got a few tips for waxing your own cotton canvas.
Remember, this is not a process to re-wax an existing piece of gear or clothing. Check with the manufacturer for specific instructions on what they recommend.
We have tried two techniques and recommend the “iron on” method.
The first method of melting the wax and painting it on with a brush is too messy and coats the fabric with more wax than necessary.
Paraffin wax is a byproduct of petroleum. We don’t recommend using this type of wax for your project.
Bees wax is our wax of choice. Beeswax blocks can be purchased at local health food stores, craft stores, or online. We are using a one-pound block.
Check the softness of the wax. You’ll want the consistency to feel like a candy bar starting to melt.
Putting the block in a sunny window or on the back porch will help speed up the process.
Using the iron, prep the area of clothing or gear where you want to start. Use the cotton or linen setting to warm up the fabric.
Not unlike applying solid deodorant, rub the wax onto the cloth. This will take a little practice. Vary the pressure and number of swipes across the fabric, to apply a visible layer of wax.
Different brands of wax react differently. You will gauge the amount according to your preference.
Use the edge and corners of the wax bar to navigate around buttons, zippers and seams.
Use the iron again to heat the wax and infuse the wax into the fabric. You may need to adjust the setting to a cooler temperature.
Again, you’ll gauge when the approach is enough to move the wax into the fabric instead of melting the wax and creating a mess.
Work at a pace that keeps the iron moving. Don’t let the iron sit in one spot for too long.
Hang your items in a cool dry place to let them cure for about 24 hours. Don’t fold, crease, or stack items. A hanger or drying rack works well.
Your waxed items should be ready for use. They will continue to cure and age beautifully. Depending on use, you may need to re-wax every year.
Don’t wash your waxed items in the machine with other clothes.
Hand washing in a sink or bucket with cool water and a mild detergent is best. Let them hang dry.