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We are all likely familiar with the phrase “cotton kills” when you’re in an outdoor setting, but we also probably know that one person that always heads out in a pair of jeans or a cotton sweatshirt. While cotton isn’t the best choice for most outdoor recreation activities, some cotton fabrics can be a decent option. 

Regardless of waterproofing, it is important to understand why cotton clothing isn’t recommended for most outdoor activities. Cotton is a very absorbent material that takes a long time to dry. That means that if you are hiking in cold, wet conditions and your cotton clothing gets wet, dangers such as hypothermia are a possibility. Avoid this by wearing quick-drying and waterproof clothing. 

Disclaimer: Waterproofing cotton clothing won’t turn cotton into rain clothing, but it can prevent water absorption, which improves general water repellency. 

How to Waterproof Cotton Clothing

Since cotton is not naturally waterproof or water-resistant, the only way to add water resistance to your clothing is to add a treatment or coating. There are several options for cotton waterproofing, and each one will have specific instructions on how to apply it. Follow the provided instructions to achieve the best results. 

For this instructional guide, we will follow Nikwax’s instructions when using their Cotton Proof Waterproofing solution. Cotton Proof can be used on cotton and polycotton apparel, canvas materials, workwear, and denim. Other options include Otter Wax or Granger’s Wash and Repel solution. 

How to Waterproof Cotton Using Nikwax Cotton Proof:

  1. Clean out clothing pockets and zip all zippers. Clean your washing machine’s detergent drawer out to remove any residue—Wash clothing to remove any dirt or grime. 
  1. Once the clothes are clean, shake the Cotton Proof and add to the machine. Add the amount of Cotton Proof needed according to the label and garment washing instructions. 
  1. Let the clothing air dry once washed. 

Do not run a washing machine with both Tech Wash and Cotton Proof in it. Only wash garments using one solution at a time. 

Cotton Proof can also be applied by hand. 

Nikwax Cotton Proof is our first choice for waterproofing cotton garments because it is an easy and effective option. It is specially designed to optimize cotton and polycotton fabrics while being water-based and PFC-free. It won’t be a 100% waterproof material once applied, but it effectively prevents water absorption, improves water repellency, helps cotton dry faster, and even helps with some stain prevention. Plus, it does all this while still allowing cotton to maintain breathability. 


Q: How do you waterproof a canvas tent?

Waterproofing a canvas tent is also known as seasoning or weathering. This can be a somewhat lengthy process, but it is relatively easy. For the most part, what you are doing is soaking the canvas material with water, and in some cases, you apply a waterproof coating. Learn more about how to waterproof a canvas tent. 

Q: Is cotton good in the rain?

Cotton is a highly absorbent material, and it gets heavier when wet. That is why it is important to season canvas tents to ensure they are waterproof. Cotton is not a good clothing option for rain because it is such an absorbent material, and it will cling to your skin, robbing your body of heat. If the cotton is waterproofed correctly, it can repel water more effectively, but it still won’t perform that well in the rain. 

Q: Can cotton hold a lot of water?

Yes, cotton is a very absorbent material. Cotton fibers can trap about 0.3 gallons of water per pound. It is estimated that cotton clothing has the ability to carry up to 27 times its weight in water

Q: Why does cotton stay wet?

Cotton lacks crimps in the fabric (wool contains crimps to assist in drying and insulating). When cotton gets wet, the fabric fiber structure collapses. The weight of the water makes the cotton lose any insulating pockets of air, which also makes the fabric cling to your skin.