Most waterproof gear used in the outdoor industry has some solvent-based waterproof coating, whether for tents or jackets. One of the most easily recognizable waterproof coatings is DWR (durable water repellent).
These coatings work wonders in wet environments, but with use and washing, these coatings wear off, and the water resistance of that material diminishes. There are some innovations in water-based waterproof coatings that don’t need to be reapplied and are more environmentally friendly, but we have yet to see them enter mainstream gear production.
So, in the meantime, to help extend the life of things like rain jackets and even our hiking boots, we can re-apply waterproof coatings. Companies like Nikwax and Gear Aid have made it accessible to do this yourself. Keep reading to learn how.
Step 1: Assess Water Resistance
First, get to know whether or not you actually need to apply a new waterproof coating. How often you need to do this depends on the product and frequency of use. For something like boots, you may need to reapply during your yearly boot wash and maintenance session. For a rain jacket or a tent, you may only need to reapply every 2-3 years.
For most of us, we won’t think to reapply a new waterproof coat until water starts to make its way through. While this is an effective way to determine if you need to reapply or not, it isn’t always the most fun. So, one thing that can help you avoid those types of situations is to test gear out at the beginning of the season.
A good habit to get into is checking over and evaluating your gear after storing it so you can determine what to prep, replace, and repair. For something like a rain jacket, you will start to see darker spots and moisture isn’t beading off, then it is time to reapply. The same goes for tents, look for areas where moisture is soaking into the material instead of rolling off.
Since you likely don’t want to go sit in the rain to test these things, all you need is a spray bottle of water and whatever piece of gear you are testing. Spray the entire surface and see what happens. For clothing, you can wet them and also shake them to see if most of the moisture comes off. If it doesn’t, it’s time to reapply.
No spray bottle on hand? You can also do this by splashing water or gently pouring water over the surface of the fabric.
Step 2: Wash Item
Once you’ve determined it’s time to revive the waterproofing of an item, wash it. Follow the care instructions of that item’s manufacturer to get a proper wash without damaging the item. Some things can be washed in standard washing machines, while others should not.
If they can be washed in a washing machine, consider using wash-in waterproof coatings. These take a few steps out of the process, but not all products can be washed this way. For products that shouldn’t be washed in a washing machine, you can still use wash-in coatings and wash them by hand in a tub or sink.
Wash-in waterproof coatings often require a heat cycle and must be put in a dryer, so keep that in mind when choosing which treatment will work best for you. We recommend wash-in coatings if you have multiple garments that need waterproofing as it is much faster and equally effective as spray-on coatings. As with any product, follow the direction provided by them for the best results.
In any case, washing the fabric before applying the coating is essential to help it bond to the fabric fibers. It helps to remove dirt, oils, and other grime that can interfere with the bonding process. Without a wash, the waterproof finish won’t work as well.
Step 3: Apply Coating
Follow the directions provided on the type of spray you choose. All solvent-based coatings are toxic when inhaled, so perform the spray treatment outside or in a well-ventilated area. Before spraying the clothing or other materials, zip or button all of the pockets and entrance points. The solvent can be applied to material that is wet or dry.
While applying the spray, hold the can at least 5-10” from the material.
It generally takes about half a can of spray to cover one rain jacket completely. So, you may need more than one bottle for something larger like a tent. As you spray, try to coat the entire area evenly. Then, if you are getting to the end of the bottle or feel you’ve covered the fabric thoroughly, apply a bit more to the high wear areas.
Once the material is coated thoroughly, follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how to dry. Some spray-on coatings perform best if dried on medium heat for 20-30 minutes. Check to make sure the item you want to dry can be put in a dryer.
Since there is so much variation in materials and types of coatings, these steps are general guidelines you can follow. Knowing how to re-apply a waterproof coating is an excellent skill to have. It will help you get the most life out of your gear as possible while keeping you warm and dry while you’re outside.
Q: How long will a DWR coating last?
Reapplying any waterproof coating will not last as long as the factory coating that came with the new product. Its duration usually depends on the coating used and the frequency of use. The more you use something, the more often you need to reapply DWR.
Q: When should I get rid of a rain jacket?
For most rain jackets, new waterproof coatings can be reapplied for years, saving you money by prolonging the product’s life. However, everything wears out eventually. Once the interior lining of a rain jacket begins to peel away or flake, it is time to start looking for a new one. If it is only doing this in small areas, you might have some life left, but you may not want to wear it in heavy rain.
Q: How do you waterproof a canvas tent?
Some canvas tents are pre-seasoned and will not need an initial treatment, but most should be seasoned annually if used often. If you need to season the canvas, soak the material with water and apply silicone or fluoropolymer waterproof spray.
Q: How often should I apply waterproof coating to my tent?
For the average outdoor enthusiast, reapplying a waterproof treatment every few years is enough. If you average more than three weeks outside with an item per year, you can consider doing it annually.
Q: What if the waterproof coating didn’t work?
If the waterproof coating you applied didn’t take, then you may need to look at the seams of the jacket, pants, or tent to see if they need to be glued or taped. It also won’t hurt to apply another coating or try a different method. For instance, if you did a spray, maybe try a wash in to see if it works better.