Is Waxed Canvas Waterproof?

Is Waxed Canvas Waterproof?

One of the most common questions we get asked is ‘Is waxed canvas waterproof?’

With many brands favouring modern synthetic fabrics like Cordura or Gore-Tex, it can be hard to understand the benefits of an age-old fabric like waxed canvas, so let’s take a look at its history, find out how it works, and discover how waterproof waxed canvas really is.

The History of Waxed Canvas. 

Waxed canvas was first conceived by Scottish fishermen in the 1800’s. They discovered that their canvas sails caught the wind more efficiently when impregnated with linseed oil, and when the sail came to the end of its life they would recycle it into weather-resistant garments to wear while at sea.

Over time, this practice became so widespread that the concept became commercialised, the proofing perfected and mills began producing pre-waxed cotton and oilcloth. Today, ours is custom made right here in Scotland.

How Does Waxed Canvas Work? 

water beading on a crottle waxed canvas

Waxed Canvas is made water-resistant by the coating itself. The cloth is densely woven, then completely saturated with wax, which naturally repels water. Over time, some of this wax will wear off, and as such it must be reproofed regularly using our Trakke wax. Typically, you’ll need to rewax the fabric on your bag every 8-12 months – just like oiling the chain on your bike. This process can be repeated indefinitely, ensuring many years of use. Check out our guide on how to properly rewax your bag. 

By contrast, most synthetic fabrics are weatherproofed by applying a thin, impermeable membrane to the cloth itself. This works very well, and these treatments can be chemically altered to tailor their qualities and performance, but over time the membrane can perish, causing it to crack and peel from the fabric as you can see in the image below. When this happens, it’s hard to undo, and the fabric becomes permeable again, so it leaks.

A synthetic fabric which shows the plastic coming apart from the main canvas

That’s why we prefer more traditional fabrics like waxed canvas that are designed to be maintained over much longer periods of time.

Is Waxed Canvas Waterproof?

Well yes and no.

It’s not completely waterproof. If you went swimming with a waxed canvas bag, it would leak. Equally, we don’t use seam-tape on our bags, so some would leak in through the seams too. In a rainstorm, this isn’t really a problem – but in a lake, a bag would be under pressure from the water around it, and it would eventually force it’s way in.

However, waxed canvas is extremely water-resistant. In a storm, the fabric will shed the rain with ease for prolonged periods of time. If the coating is maintained well, it will continue to do so for many years to come. Have a look at the video below to see water ‘beading’ off waxed canvas fabric.

So Why Do We Use It? 

A waxed canvas being spun at Halley Stevesons mill

At Trakke, we favour materials that are built to last. We look for materials that are rugged and durable, but it’s also crucial that they age well. It’s all very well lasting for 20 years, but if it looks awful after all that time you won’t want to use it.

This is where waxed cotton excels. The wax coating means that the fabric marks easily, getting scratched and scuffed over time. Each time it’s reproofed, these marks become part of the cloth and the overall colour becomes richer. This gives it a beautiful patina that captures the story of the fabric as it ages.

The story is important too. We love the fact that waxed cotton was created by fishermen here in Scotland, and that it’s still made here today.

Waxed canvas bags have a lot of character. The patina of the fabric becomes a record of all the adventures you’ve had and ultimately, waxed canvas wears in, not out, so the longer you have it, the more beautiful it will become.

In fact, it could be the last bag you ever need to buy.