Wax on, water off?

Ok so I've had my Carradice Duxback raincape for a while now, as well as two Carradice saddlebags and I completely appreciate the virtues of waxed cotton: simplicity, durability and water resistance.  It's not high tech like Gore-Tex® or any of those other fancy materials, however it is much tougher and durable than these and can be reproofed in the future.  I have an old west-German army parka which I have worn around London town a bit, and have started to wear cycling occasionally when it's cold.  It's surprisingly good to wear when riding because it's not as restrictive as a pea-coat and it's quite long and covers the upper thighs a bit which keeps them warm.

  However the cotton fabric is not so waterproof, and there have been a few occasions now that I've been rained on and the parka has been soaked through.  The construction of the parka is heavy cotton with a detachable liner inside which includes the sleeves.  I thought I'd give waterproofing it a go to make it more versatile, and somewhat useful in a bit of rain rather than it just being a big green sponge.  I decided to go with Nikwax which is a wash-in solution that gives water repellence to garments, I think that it's really more meant for re-proofing fabrics that were once waterproof however, rather than proofing fabrics that were never to begin with.  You can see in the picture above, after about 5min of riding in light to moderate rain it started soaking into the fabric quickly rather than beading off.

Ok so I think I needed something more heavy duty, I looked into waxing cotton but I had no idea how it was normally done.  It's a proven technology as I already had all this great Carradice stuff which was more or less waterproof and very durable.  I eventually found that waxed cotton is commonly used in things like tents and tarpaulins as well as outdoorsy type clothing.  Finally I found this product called Greenland wax, which is a mixture of beeswax and paraffin wax.  Normally you can just get the ingredients yourself and make your own, the melting point is quite low, around 50 deg C.  However I just bought a block off the shelf as I couldn't be bothered chasing up the ingredients.  So here's my attempt at waxing my parka:

The wax is rubbed into the fabric leaving
a thin white layer of wax

This is then ironed in with a low to medium heat
which causes the fabric to go a bit darker than before
A squirt of water shows it beading

I squirted a whole load of water onto one part
and rubbed it in, it looks like it's absorbing...

But the backside is still bone dry

You can see in the video after a few layers of wax water really starts to bead on the surface, it'll start to soak in a little bit, more so as the droplets get smaller.  However I'm pretty impressed with it, now I just have to wait for it to rain so I can really test it out.

This is after about being in moderate rain for about 15min
  There was some decent rain the other day and it performed admirably.  I ended up putting on about 5 layers of wax to get it like in the picture above, it manages to stay super dry inside and you can see even though it looks a little wet the water still generally beads on the surface and doesn't soak through.  The wax makes the fabric a little bit stiffer but it isn't as waxy and stiff as a Barbour jacket though.   I think I may just leave it at it's current level of waxiness, it seems to be perfectly sufficient for the odd bit of rain, certainly not as effective as my Carradice cape in heavy rain though.

Anyway, this Greenland wax stuff is great, very cheap and an easy way of making your clothes or other bits waterproof.  I think I may attack my Converse Chuck Taylors next...


  1. Interesting! Great to see that you can effectively "waterproof" cotton garments. Unfortunately I've pretty much banished cotton outerwear from my wardrobe, so I can't experiment. But I might need to re-wax my Carradice rain cape at some point.